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Afro Asian Games: Galloping costs, another race against time

By K.P. Mohan

NEW DELHI JUNE 25. When the Afro-Asian Games were postponed indefinitely two years ago, post-nine-eleven, the organising committee was just about cutting it fine as far as infrastructural renovation schedules were concerned. The Games were then billed to begin on November 3, 2001.

Now, after an inexplicable and hasty political twist, initiated at the last National Games, saw Delhi being dumped and Hyderabad being preferred as the venue for the inaugural Games, the schedules are getting tighter than ever before.

It is once again a race against time. And it is once again a question about mounting costs.

There should have been no hassles with the infrastructural facilities at Hyderabad. At least as per the projections made by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) top-brass last March, when the shift in venue was confirmed, everything was ready.

We thought infrastructure was no problem, accommodation was no problem, equipment was no problem. All were in place. Wrong on all counts.

Hyderabad needs two new synthetic turfs for the hockey competitions. It also needs an electronic scoreboard at the swimming venue and revolving electronic scoreboards (for infield use) at the athletics venue. Of course it will need a whole lot of other equipment of lesser costs. But most importantly, Hyderabad is planning to spend more than double the amount that Delhi would have spent on accommodation.

Of the Rs. 136 crore that Andhra is expecting from the Centre for holding the Games, Rs. 10 crore is being listed for the two synthetic hockey turfs and an equal amount for electronic scoreboards etc. The hockey turfs will have to come up near the main sports complex at Gachibowli, for, the Begumpet Police Stadium does not have space to hold another turf. Nor has anyone been able to spot a suitable location within the city.

At the time of the National Games last December, both men and women hockey federations had expressed doubts about going through with their competitions at the worn-out Begumpet Police Stadium turf. Somehow, both were cajoled into accepting the venue. Obviously, there is no alternative to a new turf. Since you need twin turfs, it will have to be a brand new facility alongside the main stadium plus a second turf nearby. And since the IHF has sought floodlighting at one venue, the costs will go up further.

That means, in the space of less than two years, we would have created two new hockey turfs apiece at two different venues. All for just one games that had been dragged along for more than a decade! Unless someone now comes up with the bright idea, "why not have the hockey competitions in Delhi''

The civil work for the new hockey turfs and floodlighting facility will have to be completed by October 1, prospective bidders are being told. The Games are to be held from October 24 to November 2. Apart from hockey (men and women), competitions will be held in athletics, swimming, football, boxing, shooting, weightlifting and tennis.

Why should anyone crib about new hockey turfs and new stadia? After all, sport gets the boost it deserves.

On the face of it, that argument will have more takers than for those who talk of escalating costs and unncessary expenditure in holding such multi-discipline Games. But then, we have to view these expenses in the background of the meagre budget allocations that sports gets in this country.

The total allocation for youth affairs and sports for 2003-2004 comes to Rs. 440.30 crores, which includes a lump sum provision of Rs. 39.02 crores for projects/scheme of North Eastern States and Sikkim. Sports and games will get only Rs. 258.42 crores, Plan and non-Plan included. Of that, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) takes Rs 126.47 crores.

The promotion of sports activities through incentives to sportspersons and schools gets Rs 15.06 crores, special incentive awards for medal winners in international sports get an allocation of Rs 9 crores, sports scholarship scheme Rs. 3.83 crores, grants for creation of infrastructure Rs. 13 crores, grant for installation of synthetic playing surfaces Rs 4.50 crores, grants for promotion of sports in universities and college Rs. 9 crores and so on.

Interestingly, a measly sum of Rs 9.32 crores has been kept aside for the Afro-Asian Games in this year's budget. Obviously, fresh funds will have to be sought from the Finance Ministry and before anything is sanctioned to Andhra, a Cabinet approval would be necessary.

Consultations are on between ministries and discussions have taken place among officials from Andhra and the SAI regarding the budgeting exercise.

One particular point that the SAI has sought further `justification'' from the Andhra side is on the figure of Rs. 46.3 crores for accommodation and boarding expenses, at the Games Village and hotels. Under the same head, Delhi had projected a sum of around Rs. 22 crores only.

The Games Village, used for the National Games, will accommodate competitors and technical officials during the Afro-Asian Games also. But, there is going to be a costly difference. The `village' is sought to be renovated and furnished at a cost of about Rs. 35 crores. The security aspects would come into play, we are told. Moreover, Hyderabad did not have enough five-Star accommodation for around 3000 competitors and officials and another batch of about 500 delegates.

The Afro Asian Games Organising Committee under Ms. Uma Bharti, then the Union Sports Minister, had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) to take care of the accommodation. ITDC was also paid some amount in advance. That money has gone down the drain.

A total of around Rs. 41 crores was spent by various agencies in gearing towards the Games in Delhi in November, 2001. Around Rs. 25 crores went for infrastructural upgradation, Rs. 8 crores for the main electronic scoreboard at the Nehru Stadium and Rs. 3.5 crores for equipment. Another one crore rupees was sanctioned for the renovation of the R. K. Khanna Stadium that was to hold the tennis matches. Nearly Rs. 4 crores was spent under miscellaneous heads including expenses for meetings, TA/DA etc. People from far and near were called to attend meetings on how to go about organising a Games that had eight disciplines with participants restricted to four toppers from each continent including an automatic entry from the host nation.

The Organising Committee will have to be reconstituted now. The sub-committees, numbering 17 on the last count, are being wound up and fresh ones being formed to include `local' people.

No one will really be bothered about how committees are reconstituted. But every sports lover in this country should be wondering whether it is worthwhile to spend Rs. 19.62 crores on international travel of participants and delegates to the Games when we are spending just Rs. 9 crores for sports activities in universities and colleges for a whole year. Or whether it would be prudent to spend Rs. 10 crores for opening and closing ceremonies at such Games when the Sports Ministry has not been able to pay up on incentive awards for the last season as promised and when athletes are forced to beg and borrow for their training trips abroad.

As late as April 2001, the IOA was talking, rather wishfully, of an expenditure of Rs. 45 crores for holding the Games, Rs. 20 crores to be raised by it through sponsorships and the rest from the Union Government. The costs have mounted from Rs. 80 crores to Rs. 111 crores to the present Rs. 136 crores, with or without additional infrastructure. Unless Doordarshan doles out a substantial sum by way of television rights, under political pressure, the IOA will be nowhere near achieving its make-believe target of Rs. 20 crores from sponsorship. (Prasar Bharati had earlier signed an agreement for Rs. 2 crores but it is to be seen whether there would be a revision.)

The numbers are bound to go up, the expenses, too. For, the Friendship Marathon, that was mooted to enable all the 96 countries — the combined strength of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA)_to make their presence felt during the Games, might be open to all.

Originally, the idea was to allow only those countries which had no representation in medal sports, an entry each in the men and women's sections of the marathon. Now, we hear talk of a wider field. Not more than 55 countries are expected to figure in medal sport competitions. Of course, delegates from all 96 countries are being invited and their air fare paid and hospitality looked after.

Since the qualification for the Hyderabad Games will depend on the All-Africa Games concluding at Abuja, Nigeria, on October 18, just six days from the opening of the Afro-Asian Games, plans are afoot to send a team of officials to Nigeria to complete accreditation formalities of Africans just as various competitions end there. That means more expenses. The Asian qualification will be based on the Busan Asian Games.

Solidarity is the ongoing theme. Such solidarity was expected to fetch India a sizeable support when the country went bidding for the 2006 Asian Games. We ended up with just one more vote apart from our own. Now, we are told, these Games will help us get the support that India needs in its bid to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Mercifully, we are not bidding for the 2012 Olympic Games. Otherwise a few years' sports budget might have been wiped out just for the bidding exercise alone!

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