On many counts, the Federation Cup aquatic championship should be seen as a success. Like most other disciplines, barring netball, aquatics, too, had to make do with an unfinished stadium but managed to impress on the technical and logistics front.

The Swimming Federation of India's organising skills, against all odds, came in for praise from the World Swimming Federation (FINA) Vice President Sam Ramsamy who otherwise stated the obvious that the so-called “world-class” facility at the Shyama Prasad Mukherjee aquatic centre was an example of poor construction.

The SFI took all the pre-event glitches in its stride and bravely did the needful during the three-day event. It could pull it off only because of a well-settled team of officials who have done their job efficiently for over a decade.

Inherent flaws

Given the state of the stadium, with inherent flaws ranging from the diving tower to the grossly ill-planned change-rooms, apparently substandard tiling of the pool, to state a few, the SFI general secretary Virendra Nanavati was obviously a worried man.

“The SFI has kept a low key from the very start,” explains Mr. Nanavati, “we were not consulted in any technical matter while the stadium was being constructed. As we all know, the elevator in the diving tower (in use since 1982) was removed stating that the FINA rules did not make it mandatory.

“For the sake of argument, I could have said, the rules don't mention the need for stairs in the diving tower. My question was, why remove the elevator that was in use for 28 years?

“How will we explain the absence of the elevator to the divers when they come here for the Games? Mercifully, now, it seems there is some re-thinking on the subject.”

On the eve of the Federation Cup, Mr. A. S. V. Prasad, joint director general (Sport) of the Organising Committee, did say that he would talk to the concerned civil engineers about the possibility of installing an elevator in time for the Games.

“We could not hold the platform diving event only because the approved anti-skid mat to be used on the platform was not made available. In fact, it was not even ordered from any of the two makers in Europe.

‘Just assurances'

“The SFI has been requesting for the equipment needed for the test event but all we got were assurances,” says Mr. Nanavati, clearly hurt by the treatment meted out to the SFI in the days leading to the Federation Cup.

If Mr. Nanavati had reasons to be defensive, nothing really stopped Sam Ramsamy from calling a spade a spade. The South African found the material used “sub-standard” and the incomplete state of the stadium made him apprehensive whether it was possible to hold the Commonwealth Games in an unfinished pool complex.

The FINA delegate pointed to the four change-rooms and noted the inadequate number of showers, the absence of lockers and lack of space for the swimmers and divers to rest during the day. The low roof and the non-installation of the starting blocks at the warm-up pool also did not miss his attention.

Mr. Ramsamy, an Executive Board member of the International Olympic Committee and also of the 2012 London Olympics Coordination Commission, has been coming to India regularly to attend meetings related with the Commonwealth Games.

He has had enough of assurances from the Indian authorities. “I took all the assurances as genuine. But in March, I became sceptical about the venue getting ready in time. Now I am proved right.”

Adverse comments

These adverse comments did not come as a surprise at all. After all, the officials of the Sports Authority of India and the Central Public Works Department have slowly started realising that the swimming complex could well be a major source of embarrassment once the swimmers and divers from the leading Commonwealth Games land here in the last week of September.

With only 65 days left for the start of the Games, it will take some serious damage-control exercise from the concerned authorities. There is little time left to undertake a break-and-make effort to correct the flaws in the remodelled infrastructure.

Barring the newly-constructed roof and the air-conditioning that worked well, a cross section of the participants and officials readily agreed that the stadium was better planned and constructed in 1982.

So even after spending a whopping Rs. 377 crore on the aquatic centre, has the Government landed a poor bargain?

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