Delhi 2010 in crisis?

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Spare a thought for Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) chief executive officer Mike Hooper, who has probably had one of the toughest weeks of his career, writes Rory Squires.

Delhi is less than two months away from staging the biggest event on the CGF calendar, but while everyone should be looking forward to a landmark sporting event in a country that supposedly has Olympic hosting ambitions, talk of who will pick up the medals will be the last thing on the minds of the Commonwealth Games' stakeholders. As many observers anticipated, it has not been plain sailing in terms of preparations for the Games. In many ways, a bit of a bumpy road should be expected when an emerging economy and country is handed such a major event. However, developments this week suggest things are even worse than feared, in terms of both construction and administration. The Indian government has stated it will investigate allegations of corruption against the organising committee after a Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) report made allegations of widespread corruption in construction projects for the Games last weekend. Matters escalated on Tuesday when the Ministry of External Affairs stated that the emails from the Indian High Commission that organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi made public to justify huge payments to a UK–based firm were 'doctored'. On Thursday, the first casualties of the scandal lost their jobs. The treasurer of the Commonwealth Games organising committee, Anil Khanna, has resigned after allegations that his son's firm had been contracted to lay 14 synthetic surfaces at RK Khanna Tennis Stadium. Meanwhile joint director generals TS Darbari and M Jeyachandran and also deputy director general Sanjay Mohindroo have been suspended over alleged financial irregularities during last year's Queen's Baton Relay in London, according to organising committee spokesman Lalit Bhanot. More heads are likely to roll as Kalmadi has set up a three–member panel headed by chief executive Jarnail Singh to look into the charges, at the request of India's Sports Ministry. The Indian government's anti–corruption agency has identified possible financial irregularities in relation to 16 Games projects; a major headache for Hooper and Kalmadi, with the event scheduled to start on 3 October 2010. At the moment it almost seems like a less pressing matter that numerous competition venues for Delhi 2010 are not currently "fit for purpose". The quality of Delhi's Commonwealth Games venues has been questioned repeatedly by local and international media, and the weightlifting auditorium was inaugurated on Sunday with a leaking roof. However, Hooper is trying to change the focus: "It is very frustrating from the point of view that we are seeing a barrage of accusations which are clearly damaging the Commonwealth Games and bringing the name of the Games into disrepute, " he told The Sport Briefing. "From our point of view, and what we have seen on the corruption side of things, it's logical to say that it must be investigated and cannot be tolerated with appropriate action taken. Having said that, this all must be taken at the appropriate time. "He added: "We are now eight weeks away from delivering one of the world's biggest multi–sporting events and therefore the focus at the moment must be on getting those things right that need to be put right to ensure that those people who come out to the Commonwealths have an enjoyable, safe and secure experience and go home happy. The reality is that there is still work to be done on the vast majority of the venues, both inside and out. So yes there is work to be done, and there is no denying that we can all see it for ourselves. But it is the responsibility of the venue owners – the government agencies – to get the stadia ready for the the competitors. So on the back of the CVC report, we want to see confirmation that the venue approvals have all been secured and they are fit for purpose. "The pressure, though, is clearly starting to get to Kalmadi. When asked by the Hindustan Times whether he felt he was simply a scapegoat for other people's misdemeanours, he responded: "I am taking it. I will not say no...but it's becoming too much. " There have also been reports of Indian Railways withholding its sponsorship fee for the Games, although the organising committee has played down these claims. However, it is a fact that several high–profile athletes – Usain Bolt, Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton to name but three – have announced they will not be attending the Games as they do not consider the event to be a priority. Some observers have suggested that could be a security issue, but some others have suggested the Games simply are not a big enough deal any more to be a must–attend date on the calendar for athletes of that calibre. Hooper has remained admirably optimistic, in public at least, and has insisted the negative reporting in India has been exaggerated by the overzealous press. However, in spite of all of the positive spin, it is abundantly clear that Delhi is struggling to be ready to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Hooper is absolutely right to say that getting the Games venues ready should be a priority, but there is no reason for the corruption investigation to be swept to one side until after the event, particularly if those culpable are still in positions of responsibility and overseeing last–gasp tenders. Of course, there is a balance to be struck between taking a sporting event to a developing market, where it can make a real difference, and going for a so–called safe pair of hands. It was no surprise when, for example, with just two bids on the table, the CGF opted for Glasgow over the Nigerian capital of Abuja for the 2014 Games. If Abuja's Games had been anything like its bid – and particularly the unprofessional response to its defeat to the Scottish city – the event would have been a chaotic mess. When Delhi was chosen, the CGF voters knew there could be setbacks on the way to staging the largest multi–sport event ever in India. However, when athletes are queuing up to pull out, leaking competition venues are being inaugurated just weeks before the event, and those in charge of preparing the Games are the subject of a widespread corruption investigation, members of the International Federation have to take stock of the situation. For 2010, Hamilton in Canada, a relatively safe pair of hands, was beaten by Delhi. For the 2018 Games, the Commonwealth Games Federation members have to vote for Gold Coast in Australia over Hambantota in Sri Lanka. The fact that there are only two bids on the table should itself be setting off alarm bells for the CGF. But with limited options, the International Federation has to take a safety first approach for the foreseeable future. By choosing Gold Coast and avoiding a country that was engulfed by a civil war and fled by nearly 300, 000 Sri Lankan Tamils last year, the Commonwealth Games would be staged in a top sporting market, and more importantly, a solid event–hosting market. The reputation of the Commonwealth Games needs to be restored, especially for the athletes, and consecutive events in Scotland and then Australia should go some way to doing just that, although a third solid hosting market in 2022 would be preferable. As admirable a decision it was to take the 2010 Games to Delhi, it is difficult to say at this moment in time that it was correct. About The Sport Briefing This story has been reproduced with the kind permission of The Sport Briefing. 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