Millennium Post

So where does the pot of gold lie?

Poor Haryanvis, Hyderabadis, Keralites, Bengalees, Jharkhandis and Manipuris! Sorry, it is no shame for India, the world’s second most populous nation, if those young undernourished, under-equipped, under-coached underdogs of world sports from nearly two dozen Indian states failed to pick up a piece of gold from the just concluded London Olympics. Those ignorant critics probably don’t know two important facts about India’s two recent big successes in gold hunt, which would put all Olympic gold medals winning countries of the world to utter shame and embarrassment.

The fact number one: in 2010, India turned a comparatively tiny international games event on its soil into gold. The New Delhi Commonwealth Games [CWG] provided a great golden opportunity to builders and contractors to pocket some Rs 75,000 crore or over $19 billion in 2009-2010 exchange rates, which they happily extracted mostly with substandard supplies, inflated bills and lavish imports. Contrast this with 1982 New Delhi Asian games, a much bigger and prestigious event participated by 33 national Olympic associations, including those from China, Japan, South Korea and the Arab world, the cost of which was unofficially estimated at Rs 1,000 crore or $1.25 billion at the then exchange rate of Indian rupee to US dollar. Surprisingly, there is no official record of the total expenses incurred on the 1982 Asiad.

The Delhi 2010 CWG proved to be a great money-spinner for the organisers, politicians, bureaucrats and touts. Its lavish expenditure attracted highly adverse public criticism and scathing remarks from the country’s comptroller and auditor general [CAG], leading to the prosecution and jail of the organising committee boss, Suresh Kalmadi, a parliament member representing the ruling Congress party, and a few others. While Kalmadi is out of the jail custody, the case is still on.

Expenditure-wise, the CWG Delhi would put all Olympic games organisers, including China, in the recent past, to shame. The 2008 Beijing Olympics, the glitziest ever, had officially cost China close to $18 billion in the prevailing Yuan-Dollar exchange rate, then. The western world, however, felt China spent much more than the official estimate. Like everything else under the bamboo curtain, it remained a big Chinese puzzle. Prior to Beijing, the 2004 Athens Olympics cost Greece, a country of less than 11 million people and having smaller than $300 billion in GDP, a whopping $13.5 billion, including $1.4 billion in security apparatus. Greece reeled under the lavish expenditure burden for a while before the European Union member got into a severe financial trouble – though may not be not quite linked with the Athens Olympics bill – within five years after the games.

In comparison, the cost of the just concluded London Olympics has been pegged around $16 billion. The UK government had promised the Olympics would come within the revised budget – less than £9 billion to taxpayers. This includes a set of extra expenditures under such accounting heads as crowd control measures in the light of a bigger-than-expected turnout for the jubilee celebrations and the torch relay [£19m]. Overall, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic games [Locgoc] received £736 m from the public funding package, including a security budget to cover guards within Olympic venues that almost doubled to £553 m.

In the case of Delhi’s CWG, official cost estimates went up by a staggering 1875 per cent since the city won the bid. Unofficial assessments put the escalation at a mindboggling 3,600 per cent – that is more than 36 times the original estimate. The country’s original bid document for the 2010 CWG submitted in 2003 estimated the cost of hosting the event at only Rs 1,899 crore, or less than $500 million in the then existing exchange rate. The estimate was periodically jacked up at the behest of contractors, suppliers and event managers. And, there was no problem these huge cost revisions getting repeated government approvals.

The fact number two: India, which emerged as the world’s largest importer of gold, spending some $60 billion in 2011, could spare its less privileged youth the trouble and extra physical strain for a few ounces of gold from the London games to add to the nation’s glory. The two silver and four bronze medals had more than beaten India’s expectations. The union sports ministry bragged the country’s latest medals haul as a 100 per cent improved achievement over the tally from the Beijing Olympics.

The Indian medal winners are being felicitated by the country’s top political leadership, including the prime minister, the United Progressive Alliance [UPA] chairperson, state chief ministers and the railway minister, making large cash offers along with other goodies, giving an impression the nation is more than happy with its Olympic achievements. Obviously, the country strongly believes in the Olympic motto that puts the spirit of participation ahead of standing on victory podiums.

Few have measured the Indian psyche probably more appropriately than New York physician Anthony Daniels, a contributing editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, whose recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, said: Earning just six medals [none gold], India largely ignored the games. Therein lies its wisdom and glory. ‘Precisely. And in this matter there is one shining beacon in the world: India. Its low tally of medals in the Olympic games puts practically all other countries to shame. With a 6th of the world’s population, it won only six medals, none of them gold – that is to say, it won fewer, pro rata, than half a per cent of the medals won by Britain and 1.25 per cent of those won by the US.’ he said.

A great achievement, indeed! Admittedly, the games India love to play are money making games and not sports. The only game the country has shown some proficiency at is cricket, played with consistency by only some eight countries. The game has turned India’s cricket control board [BCCI] into a sporting gold mine, the richest among the participating national cricket bodies. The stink of big money had attracted top politicians and businessmen to BCCI to take full control of the sporting body and its fat purse. [IPA]
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