MUMBAI - Startling news flashed across India the past week about a beleaguered
Commonwealth Games official attempting suicide. Upset with criticism and
exposes of corruption, he roped his neck to the ceiling of a newly built
stadium to hang himself ... and the ceiling collapsed.
The joke, circulating across India, brought some light relief to a country
seething at corrupt, incompetent politicians and bureaucrats delivering Asia's
biggest-ever sporting mess.
Over 6,000 athletes from over 70 Commonwealth countries formerly ruled by
Britain have begun arriving at the Games in New Delhi, which open on October 3
and run to October 14, and they
have encountered problems that could get worse in the days ahead.
Not only have incompetent officials ensured prolonged delays since New Delhi
bagged the hosting rights in 2003, but the joke about Organizing Committee
chairman Suresh Kalmadi may be more of a dire warning. Realistic fears of the
safety of the Games infrastructure add to evidence of staggering governmental
incompetence and declining public interest in the event.
A newly constructed 95-meter pedestrian overbridge, outside the main Jawaharlal
Nehru (JLN) Stadium, crashed down on September 21, injuring 27 people. Indian
army engineers rushed to build a Bailey Bridge as a replacement.
The next day, a false ceiling inside the JLN stadium collapsed - the source of
the gallows humor - and added non-terrorism safety fears to the 19th
Commonwealth Games looming as the most corrupt event in the history of sport.
The multi-layered disorder was almost inevitable, after the responsibility for
organizing the Games was given to Indian Olympic Association chief Kalmadi and
other politicians who had masqueraded as sports administrators for decades.
Not surprisingly, the first wave of athletes arriving in New Delhi was greeted
with chaos. The confusion ranged from missing volunteers and accreditation
cards, to political squabbling whether Prince Charles, the heir to the British
throne, or Pratibha Patil, the president of India, would have the dubious honor
of inaugurating an event the Indian public increasingly sees as an
The buildup has not been helped by several high-profile athletes withdrawing.
Jamaican 100 meters world record holder Usain Bolt, along with sprint rival and
countryman Asafa Powell, had already been ruled out through injury. But English
triple-jumper Phillips Idowu and Scottish tennis player Elena Baltacha withdrew
through fears for their safety and health respectively, the BBC reported. South
African 800m world champion Caster Semenya and Kenya's 800m world record holder
David Rudisha will also be absent.
Outraged howls of ''national shame'' and ''betrayal'' erupted across the media
and in Indian diaspora worldwide as photographs of filthy rooms in the Games
Village circulated in social networking sites.
But emotions are misdirected. India's actual shame was not in the construction
debris and dirty toilets in the supposedly "ready" Games village. The real
shame is in the fact that the country is hosting the Commonwealth Games at all.
Forget national poverty and illiteracy, India's athletics for decades have been
complaining about inadequate facilities and funds, running from pillar to post
for basics such as air fares to compete in international events and even money
to get nutritious food.
The delusion of India's ''image'' getting a global shine from the Games has
cost taxpayers an estimated US$8 billion, an incredible 1,575% increase over
initial budgets presented in parliament.
But with construction workers in the Games village now complaining of not being
paid their dues, even Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot might have trouble
finding where all the money has disappeared.
Incredibly, the Indian government had ignored former Delhi High Court chief
justice A P Shah's damning, detailed 77-page report in May. Titled "The 2010
Commonwealth Games: Whose Wealth? Whose Commons?" Shah revealed glaring
irregularities, bribery and corruption.
Apart from claims of $100,000 bribes to win the hosting rights, the report
alleged that Kalmadi and Co had offered inducements to international Games
Federation officials such as free visits to the Taj Mahal in luxury cars for
their families in India for the Games.
A warped, misplaced sense of "national pride" in hosting these Games now
appears like the false prestige of a father not paying the house rent and his
children's school fees, but hosting parties at a five-star hotel and flying
first class to polish his ''image'' among associates.
Bring in the likes of Kalmadi and his track record of incompetence, the whole
farcical episode is like a farmer buying a space shuttle to impress neighbors,
handing over its keys to a clowning Mutt and Jeff and then lamenting
hysterically after the duffers promptly crashed the multi-billion dollar
spacecraft in the village street.
Even without Kalmadi and friends' Mutt and Jeff act, India's outsized
investment in the Games seems more ludicrous when the government announced it
lacked funds for the Food Security Act - the parliament-enabled programs to
feed weaker sections such as the homeless destitute, HIV-AIDS patients,
abandoned elderly and street children.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, India's
apex economic think-tank, told the National Advisory Council on September 25
that he could not allot funds to the needy during the current 11th five-year
Yet two days later, media exposes revealed that the government had been
lavishing over $300,000 in the past two years in luxury accommodation for Mike
Hooper, the controversial chief executive officer of the Commonwealth Games
The fiasco increases with New Delhi residents cold-shouldering the mega-event.
''There is very little interest in the city for the Commonwealth Games,'' says
Mohit Goel from Model Town-11. ''People are hurt by all the corruption and the
irresponsible way the government has handled the scandals.''
Goel, an executive in a textile factory, told Asia Times Online that he and his
friends would not be attending any Games event.
A few days before the start, New Delhi residents remained more resentful than
supportive of the most expensive if not the biggest event in the city's
''We are being put to too much inconvenience,'' complained New Delhi resident
and social worker Sohini Paul. ''Commuting has become more difficult because
one lane in every major road in the city has been blocked for Games-related
traffic. Public buses have also been reduced in number.''
Paul told Asia Times Online that she and her family, like many others in Delhi,
were leaving the city since schools and colleges are shut for the duration of
College hostels had been earmarked for tourists visiting the Games, but with
organizers selling only about one-tenth of the 1.7 million available tickets,
there is no risk about accommodation running out in New Delhi.
The rest of the country appears equally unimpressed. Some are issuing a
half-joke, half-warning to relatives and friends in Delhi to keep away from
stadiums that may come tumbling down, thanks to hasty and corruption-ridden
Perhaps the New Delhi Commonwealth Games mess was just desserts for an outdated
organization that has long since outlived its relevance, except for countries
like Australia that continue having the British monarch as constitutional head.
Former sports minister Mani Shankar Iyer caused an uproar in July when he
declared India would be better off if the Commonwealth Games utterly flopped,
because that would ensure the country not squandering more billions of
tax-payer money in bidding for the Olympics. It appears his wish is coming