With just days to go for the Games, how does the Commonwealth Games Federation assess India's preparedness? Federation president Mike Fennell talks to Karan Thapar, for an interview broadcast over CNN-IBN in the programme, ‘Devil's Advocate.'
Let's start with the Games Village. The Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi said 80 per cent of the work was complete, but you said an extensive amount of work needs to be done.
The cleaning-up needs to be completed. There's water in the basement, the elevators are not working, and safety devices are not in place. The work needs to be done carefully and methodically, but it's being done.
What about the 18 towers for residential purposes that are incomplete?
Some are not in very good condition. But there's spare space. Closing down of the blocks is a possibility if it comes to that.
How horrified were you by the state of hygiene and filth in the Village that was shown on TV?
Horrified that it was left like that. I had said on August 18 and 19, on my last visit, that cleaning-up needed to be done. I was horrified that it was left like that.
You're saying your warnings were ignored or not heeded.
Not heeded at all. I was giving warnings until a year ago.
The second big issue is safety. After the collapse of the footbridge and after parts of the false ceiling came down, how confident are you that similar mishaps are not going to be witnessed again?
I've visited stadiums all over the world, for the Olympics, the Pan American Games and others. What should be quite clear is that the footbridge was still under construction. It's difficult to say what went wrong … With the massive amount of construction going on it is not unusual for some remedial work that needed to be done in certain buildings.
The Central Vigilance Commission in July revealed that some of the test reports had been fabricated, the cement used in some of the stadiums was sub-standard, electrical installations in 14 out of 17 venues at that time had not been tested. How seriously does the Federation take such reports?
Very seriously. We've asked for usage certificates, and certificates of construction and integrity of the engineering. We've read those reports and gone through them with the authorities and have received the necessary assurances … A lot of the checks are by the third party, they're coming from independent authorities in India. We cannot ask for more than that.
Have you got all the structural safety certificates for the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium?
We've got all the certificates for the stadium, but there're 34 blocks in the Village and there's a general approval for the whole development. We're asking for block-by-block certificates, which include certificates for fire and safety. Because there is concern about the fire hoses, fire drills, fire alarm systems and evacuation procedures.
The third issue is security. After the shooting incident at the Jama Masjid and after an Australian channel's sting operation exposed what they claimed were security lapses in India, how confident are you of the preparedness?
There's no question, security planning has been very sound. People from outside India have also been invited to review it. We from the Federation have employed consultants who do it all over the world. They've made periodic visits to check the system, its planning and implementation. They're here full-time now to monitor it on a daily basis. So, certainly we're satisfied that from the point of view of the country the Indian government has taken very good measures for the security of India, not just the Games. Secondly, the security arrangements for the Games in Delhi, we feel that what can be done has been put in place. The next point is, how is it working? … [We] have been having discussions with the Police Commissioner about details of how it can work better. The funny thing is that the security has been so good that it has been restricting the movement of people … Some of the planning is not working as we intended and that is being worked out. This is not unique in the planning of any major event … They're issues that are being dealt with.
What would you say about overall preparedness?
It has been a difficult journey and a journey which we ourselves are learning to deal with a country, its culture, its management system and management styles. I'm also hoping that India will also see it as a learning experience, to understand the international community better and not just the Indian community. India is a successful country, it'll internationally be stacked up amongst the superpowers. But in terms of hosting an international event, this ought to be a big learning experience for India.
Was a new mental approach required on your part to deal with a different culture?
Yes, but I should explain that wherever you go the culture is different. We've had to work in Malaysia, in Manchester, in Melbourne, and they're all different. India in itself is quite different, but in those countries they had experience of having these complex international events.
How'd you assess the manner in which the Organising Committee [OC] has handled the Games?
I think there were a lot of weaknesses. There was no shortage of commitment, no shortage of their desire to do the best, but sometimes they did not quite understand the complexities of the requirements and they were a little reluctant to accept outside views as to how things should be done.
Were you talking about inexperience, or ineptitude?
Both. You're asking me to say something without proper support and proper documentation. I don't think it is fair for me to answer that question at this stage. When we do our review that'll be the proper time to come to a conclusion based on our analysis.
How do you assess Suresh Kalmadi's leadership and his chairmanship of the Organising Committee?
Again, there's no question about that: Mr. Kalmadi is a very charismatic leader, he ran a very successful bid to win the right to host the Games.
But then, thereafter?
Thereafter it requires a different approach, and this is something he also was learning as we went along.
Did India make promises and commitments to secure the Games which it has been unable to live up to and fulfil?
They secured the Games because people were encouraged that India was the largest Commonwealth country wanting to host the Games. There was no shortage of resources. There was no shortage of commitment of the government and the various agencies in doing this. Where we fell short is that India did not understand the complexity of holding a multi-sports game of this magnitude. Although they hosted the Asian Games many, many years ago, the world that we live in is totally different. The standards that we're working to are a lot different, and certainly we needed to convince them about the standards they have to work to — which are international standards.
You said India had great lessons to learn. What kind of lessons do you think need to be learnt?
First of all I think we've to understand that the Games will be held and that they will be successful. We can only judge that afterwards. I think India has to understand that when you're hosting an international event you're not hosting it as an Indian event but it has to be based on what the international requirements are. Yes, it will have its Indian flavour, yes it will have its Indian characteristics and that is why it is so nice to go from country to country. But there are other norms that you have to satisfy. There are 70 countries participating from six different regions, and each will be looking towards how other people host Games. That's a lesson to be learnt from this exercise.
You said we all must share the blame for what has gone wrong. Does that include you and Mike Hooper?
We all must share the blame. We can't shed the responsibility. We from the Federation enter into a contract with an Organising Committee and we expect that OC to deliver with their partners, but we also have to be part of the whole thing.
We're doing this as a team. I don't think it's fair for anybody to jump aside and point out other people's mistakes. We are all part of the Games.