Plan before making a bid

In 2010, India had the fantastic opportunity of making a mark in the international sporting world by hosting the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Delhi. Little did we expect the disappointing aftermath of that event. The CWG was criticised for delays in construction, poor infrastructure and for the way the events were conducted, before its officials were marred by corruption charges. Eight years on, India has not been able to break free from that tarnished image.

Since 2017, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) seems to be pushing Indiaback into the arena as a sporting heavyweight. The IOA has made public its interest in bidding for three global multisport events: the 2026 Summer Youth Olympic Games, the 2030 Asian Games, and the 2032 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. Recently, the IOA Secretary General met with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and submitted a formal expression of interest to bid for the 2032 Games. Before we assess the potential of the IOA’s ambition, a brief look at the goings-on of the Olympic world over the past few years will set a proper context.

An asset or a liability?

The IOC describes the impact of the Games on a host country thus: “Olympic legacy encompasses all the tangible and intangible long-term benefits initiated or accelerated by the hosting of the Olympic Games/sport events for people, cities/territories and the Olympic Movement.” The Games have been designed to leave an indelible mark on host cities by providing an impetus to national and international investments, foreign relations, world-class infrastructure, tourism, sporting culture, and so on. Through the years, the Games in Seoul, Barcelona and London have proven to fulfil these expectations. The 1988 Games in Seoulfacilitated enormous profits leading to transformative reforms. Barcelonawas adjudged as one of the top world tourist destinations after the 1992 Games, creating about 20,000 permanent jobs and a solid sporting heritage in Spain. The 2012 Games in London gave the U.K. economy a £9.9 billion boost.

However, historically, the Games have proven to be more of a liability than an asset. Often, the build-up to the Games sees a huge surge in investment, immediately followed by a dramatic dip in economic activity in the post-Games period. For instance, the growth rate in Japan went up to 13.3% following the 1964 Games, after which it dropped to 5.7% in 1965. After the 1976 Games in Montreal, for the next 40 odd years, Canadians suffered a massive deficit due to lopsided investments in social infrastructure. Athens and Rio have faced similar economic trauma. Beyond monetary impacts, the Games have also demolished historic buildings, wiped out acres of forests, displaced underprivileged neighbourhoods, posed threats to indigenous communities, and so on. These looming threats of hosting the Games have daunted not just developing nations, but also the developed ones from even submitting a complete bid. The 2024 Games bid saw five contending cities (Paris, Los Angeles, Budapest, Hamburg and Milan), but only two bidding cities (Parisand Los Angeles) remained in the end. The 2026 Winter Games saw eight hopeful cities, but only two (Stockholm and a joint Italian bid) remain in the race.

Also, the past few Games have shown a trend of spending almost double the amount to host the Games than estimated in their bids. China spent a whopping $44 billion for the Beijing 2008 Games, while Rio 2016 cost $13 billion. The Games have become unaffordable and it is becoming difficult for host countries to justify the costs. Even the procedure of bidding for the Games goes on for about 9-10 years. Understanding that the bidding process can be tedious and expensive, the IOC introduced a more streamlined mechanism through the Olympic 2020 Agenda and the New Norm. In 2017, the IOC made a “historic” decision by granting the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games to Paris and Los Angeles, respectively. This means that one Olympic bidding cycle will be skipped, and the next bid will be made directly for the 2032 Games.

So far, an Olympic bid has been made with a single city as its venue. However, this is becoming an unsustainable proposition for host cities. To host the Games, one city needs to have the sporting infrastructure to host 310 events and high-end accommodation arrangements for at least 15,000 participating personnel. In addition to this, the city has to accommodate several delegates, VIPs, ambassadors, government heads, IOC members and lakhs of travelling spectators (Rio 2016 Games saw an attendance of 5,00,000 people). Further, certain sports have special requirements – rowing, for instance, needs a straight 2km river. It is almost impossible to find an existing metropolitan city which can sustain this enormous influx of people and infrastructural requirements. Understanding this concern, the bids for the Games are now gradually changing. For the first time, Italy has submitted a three-city joint bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

What India must do

With this context in the international circuit, the IOA must consider the following issues in India while preparing to participate in the race for the 2032 Games. First, to be considered a sporting powerhouse, India must leave a mark at the 2020 Olympic Games to convince the world that it takes sports seriously. Second, India has hosted only a handful of multisport events, with none really matching up to the grandeur and scale of the Olympic Games. Hosting multisport events in the coming years may prove to be key in cementing its prowess to pull off the mighty event. Third, typically, the Olympic Games are funded through public and private money. Designing a long-term investment plan will ensure high participation from the private sector, reducing the burden on government funds. Fourth, the government should make the most of this opportunity to tackle issues of the environment, waste management, public health, and sanitation, to ensure clean and safe facilities for the Olympic athletes. Fifth, any government would like the prestige of having hosted an Olympic Games during its tenure. Working together with a stable democratic polity would prove to be a huge attraction for participating countries. Finally, identifying locations for hosting the games early on will help create facilities that have a longer life span and would also help reduce costs.

It is only when we perceive the games as a long-term development enabler can it be made a sustainable proposition. So far as competitors go, it is never going to be a straightforward victory. The earlier we can begin planning and strategising, the stronger and cheaper the actual event can be. However, a common trend in the Olympic world shows that a failed attempt for one bid can be a stepping stone for a victorious bid in the coming years. The IOA’s recent statement of being “dead serious” about hosting the Games should undoubtedly be looked at positively. Hopefully, a 2032 bid for the Olympic Games by India would prove to be a classic scenario of trusting the process.


Samiha Dabholkar is a Sports Consultant. Email:

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 5:44:15 PM |

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