Follow Us:

Stay away from Olympian Horrors

Raja Murthy |

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi met International Olympics Committee chief Thomas Bach for tea in Delhi in April, hopefully they spent more time discussing what tastes better dunked in chai – Marie or butter biscuits. Any hint of India hosting the Olympic Games in 2024 should have been treated as an unfunny joke.

No problems if India hosts the Olympics, World Cup football and the Global Balloon Bursting championship entirely using private sector funds, or petty cash from our resident billionaires. But we are not again throwing thousands of crores of taxpayer money in commercialised, corruption-ridden multinational tamashas.

The US$ 8 billion blown away in the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games should serve as continuous warning. Never repeat the blunder of the Vajpayee government committing to host a sporting event India should never have hosted.

It&’s a lesson other host nations are learning the painful way. Brazil spent over $3 billion building 12 new stadiums and renovating old ones for the 2014 football World Cup – despite strong protests from its people. Obstinate politicians promised these venues would earn income for years, by hosting concerts, sporting and social events. A year later, the stadiums have no funds for their maintenance. Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha, the showpiece arena in Brasilia, is now being used as a municipal bus parking lot.

Some Brazilian cities sold stadiums to private companies. This didn’t work either. A company bought the Rio Grande do Norte in Natal, to rent out for parties and weddings. It was put back again on sale.

Worse is to come. Brazil is spending another $13 billion to host the Rio summer Olympics in 2016.

Economists studying cities hosting Olympian extravaganzas are unanimous about the dead loss. On May 12, an economist Victor Matheson bluntly advised in the online Vox: “My basic takeaway for any city considering a bid for the Olympics is to run away like crazy.”

‘Does Hosting the Olympics Actually Pay Off ?’ asked a New York Times article dated 5 August 2014, and answered: “There is strikingly little evidence that such events increase tourism or draw new investment… Stadiums, which cost a lot and produce minimal economic benefits, are a particularly lousy line of business. This is why they are usual ly built by taxpayers rather than by corporations. “

In contrast, the original Olympic Games at Olympia were an uncomplicated one-day event until 684 BC, yet long enough for athletes like Milon of Croton, Leonidas of Rhodes and Melankomas from Caria to become legends. The ancient Olympics expanded to five days by 5th century BC, but no Greek city went bankrupt then hosting the Games as Montreal did in 1976.

By 2024, a more enlightened humanity will see government-funded Olympian spectaculars in their true nature: a multi-billion dollar construction scam. The $8 billion public money sunk into the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, for instance, was an incredible 1,575 per cent increase over initial budgets presented in Parliament. Former Delhi High Court chief justice A P Shah&’s 77-page report, The 2010 Commonwealth Games: Whose Wealth? Whose Commons? exposed the corruption.

Leave alone this $8 billion being better used to tackle illiteracy and poverty, India&’s athletes for decades have been crying for facilities, funds, even nutritious food. One per cent of the Olympian funds directly given to our athletes would help them for life.

If at all the world wants the Olympic Games then it should be hosted every four years in a fixed Olympia, an Olympic Town – with costs for its long-term infrastructure and maintenance shared by economically better off countries. This Olympia town can house tourists in between the Games. The IOC can then more easily make the Olympics a viable proposition, instead of prospective host cities wanting to ‘run away like crazy’. No point building Olympic Games villages and extravagant stadiums every four years in different countries – and leaving a trail of Olympian financial ruin.

A debt-ridden country like India (US$ 921 billion national debt, according to nationaldebtclocks.org) wanting to even host the Asian Games is like a father not paying the house rent and children&’s school fees, but hosting lavish parties at a five-star hotel to polish his ‘’image’’.

The ‘image’ of India&’s sports administrators organising the Olympics seems like the bankrupt offering bank loans. Apart from cricket diligently developed at grass roots-level, nearly every other sporting body in the country is a horribly continuing story of mismanagement and inefficiency.

More appalling are human costs involved in these taxpayer funded extravaganzas. Hundreds of thousands were thrown out of their homes in construction work for the New Delhi Commonwealth Games. “For the 11-day event, the government demolished the lives we built here over 18 years,” lamented a 58- year-old vegetable seller in Delhi. His house had been smashed to make way for the Vajpayee legacy.

As necessary compensation, people whose houses were demolished should be allowed to occupy flats in the Commonwealth Games Village – it&’s not only Members of Parliament and bureaucrats who are entitled to get the best possible public-funded accommodation.

Brazil similarly suffered last year. Thousands displaced from neighbourhoods to build the now empty World Cup stadiums, thousands of families suffering – just so politicians and sports administrators can strut on global television.

In 2010, footballer Bhaichung Bhutia joined the rest of the country in questioning the wisdom of hosting these criminally wasteful tamashas.

India should not have bid to host the Commonwealth Games, he said, when the country lacked even basic sporting infrastructure -such as sufficient playing grounds for children. Barely five years later, we talk of bidding to host the Olympics? Obelix the Gaul might tap his head and say, “these Indians are crazy.”

If the central government economic planners seriously think India can afford US$20 billion or more to host the Olympics, then better give this spare cash to the Indian Railways.

The $20 billion can be happily used to put the country&’s lifeline on track. Better than building, as Brazil did, ritzy sporting stadiums that a year later becomes multi-billion dollar municipal bus depots.