Will New Delhi be ready to host the Commonwealth Games in time? That was the question on every informed Indian's lips around six months ago. That question is no longer relevant. The doubt should now be about the Games getting the final go-ahead from participating countries and the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF). The ever-escalating embarrassment for the country on the global stage in the chaotic and corrupt build-up to the Games turned into an emergency on Tuesday when a footbridge collapsed near the main stadium and several foreign delegates trashed the Games Village as filthy, unhygienic, and uninhabitable. How much more can the nation be shamed by a bunch of bungling sports officials, Ministers, and government agencies? If the top people in government failed to take their cue from CGF President Mike Fennell's criticism more than a year ago, when he warned of serious slippages in operational areas, it continued to dither even after Organising Committee (OC) chairman Suresh Kalmadi's position became untenable following corruption charges against his key aides. A few superficial changes were made by bringing in more bureaucrats into key functional areas after a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But there was no saving the benighted project because quality had been compromised by incompetent and corrupt officials in every area connected with the Games.
To put the blame solely on the OC for every bridge and false-roof crash and incomplete Games Village blocks would of course be unfair. The government agencies were responsible for all construction work and they should be held accountable for the delays and mishaps as well. But the OC cannot escape criticism for the mess it allowed to remain in the Village in honour of the advance delegations from participating countries. The Games were supposed to showcase India's organisational ability to go with its rising stature on the global stage — as the spectacularly organised Beijing Olympics did for China. After creditably hosting the Asian Games in New Delhi in 1982 under the inspired leadership of a rising Rajiv Gandhi, India might have expected to stage a memorable show with the CWG nearly three decades later. But the script has gone tragi-comically sour. At something like Rs. 30,000 crore of the taxpayers' money, the Games are the most expensive sports event hosted by India. It is certainly an extortionate price to pay in exchange for shame and disgrace. India perhaps should never have gone in for these Games but there is no question of a bail-out now. The task is gigantic. The organisers and the government must hold their nerve and make up for lost time. Several Olympic and world champions have withdrawn from the Games. The least that can be done is to ensure that the rest do not follow their footsteps.