Nearly six years after being allotted the 19th Commonwealth Games, Delhi is racing against time to meet the deadline of October 3, 2010. If the critical evaluation of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), coupled with that of the Commonwealth Games Co-ordination Commission, is to be believed, things could not have been worse than they are at this juncture. There is just over a year left for the agencies to deliver the biggest ever multi-discipline games India will have hosted. On the other hand, there is a quiet confidence in the approach of Union Sports Minister M.S. Gill and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit to the huge challenge. At stake will be the country’s prestige and its ability to organise an event of this magnitude, with an eye on a possible Olympic bid, amidst the economic slowdown and mounting security concerns. Grappling as they are with construction delays in at least 13 of the 19 sports venues, the authorities could have been spared the embarrassment of a scathing complaint by Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) president Michael Fennell, who has sought the Prime Minister’s intervention in a “recovery plan.”
There is concern, of course, over the escalating costs. The projection of the organisational expenditure has jumped from less than Rs.70 crore in 2003 to Rs.1,600 crore and the estimated sports infrastructure costs have shot up from Rs.136 crore to Rs.3,934 crore. There is no clear estimate yet about what the city could end up spending on the civic infrastructure. Every rupee will be well spent if New Delhi manages to pull off a memorable Games, as it did 27 years ago, under Rajiv Gandhi’s helmsmanship, when it hosted the Asian Games. But this will require, first of all, an end to the bickering within the Organising Committee, which also needs to be strengthened by inducting a few senior administrators with proven track records, as was done in 1982. Secondly, it is clear that decentralisation will lead to quicker implementation. Thirdly, a way must be found to achieve better co-ordination among multiple authorities handling Games projects. Fourthly, revised targets must be set and trial events held to rectify defects and assess organisational capability. The CGF would do well not to intrude too much on the host’s prerogatives. Denied an opportunity to train at Games venues well in advance, India’s sportspersons need to be provided with the best of facilities as they prepare for the 17-sport Games. China not only set new benchmarks in infrastructure and organisation during the 2008 Beijing Olympics; it also won a record number of medals. That is the kind of perfection New Delhi should be aiming for.