Act Nine – Rio Olympics: Learning lessons from India’s 2010 Commonwealth Games debacle

The organizers of the ongoing summer Olympic Games in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro have lately come under heavy criticism from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), participating country delegations and a significant portion of the world’s media.

Political corruption scandals, construction lapses, inadequate living facilities for athletes, mass resettlement of slum dwellers, environmental degradation, threats of outbreak of deadly disease, inadequate security arrangements, massive overspending, lack of ticket sales and traffic jams are just some of the concerns expressed by various stakeholders of the Olympic Games.

The impending impeachment of the country’s former President Dilma Rousseff and widespread calls for imprisonment of her predecessor Lula da Silva, have added to the chaos that has firmly overshadowed the build up to the Rio Games.

Some have even begun to question the IOC’s decision to stage the Olympic Games in a developing country such as Brazil.

In the days and months running up to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games on August 5, thousands of Brazilians took to the streets to protest its government’s decision of hosting a grossly expensive mega sporting event in a country reeling from high unemployment, poverty and inequality. Last week, local rioters pelted stones as the Olympic torch made its way through the streets of Rio de Janeiro in what was supposed to be a celebratory occasion for the city.

Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi
Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi

Many Brazilians continue to lament their government’s decision to spend billions of dollars on hosting the Games – money that could have been spent on improving basic amenities such as education, health, public safety, transportation and housing. Total spending in excess of $12 billion, which has made Rio 2016 one of the most expensive games in the history of the Olympic Games, is expected to put further strain on Brazil’s ailing economy.

In fact, some members of the International Olympic Committee have recently come out and expressed their apprehensions about holding the quadrennial games in developing countries in the near future. “Rio has been the biggest challenge we have ever faced,” said Gerhard Heiberg, an IOC member from Norway. “Maybe we will spend some more time thinking about going to the last continent.”

It would perhaps have been wise for the IOC to hold consultations with the Commonwealth Games organizing committee before allotting the 2016 Olympics Games to the city of Rio de Janeiro.

On 14 November, 2003, members of the Commonwealth committee voted to choose India as the host of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. As a result, India became only the third developing country to host the international multi-sport event. After the initial euphoria died down, a harsh realization soon began to dawn upon the organizers of the event.

The 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games were meant to cement India’s place in the pantheon of great sporting nations across the world. Furthermore, successfully organizing a major international sporting event would have raised the country’s global profile as an attractive investment destination.

Instead, the games left behind a legacy of debilitating corruption scandals and international embarrassment.

Indeed, the parallels between Rio 2016 and Delhi 2010 are uncanny. Like Rio, Delhi too faced universal condemnation in light of its inability to provide adequate infrastructure, clean water, security and basic amenities to international athletes in the lead up to the games.

While many prominent athletes have pulled out of the Rio Olympic games due to the threat of the deadly Zika virus, the Delhi Commonwealth Games were plagued by an outbreak of Dengue in the city. Leaking pipelines, faulty electrical sockets, broken furniture and non-functional air conditioners in the athletes village are some of the common issues that have plagued both the events.

Amidst massive cost overruns, both sets of organizers have been accused of corruption. Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes has handed out contracts to construction firms Odebrecht and Andrade Gutierrez, both part of an alleged multi-billion dollar corruption scandal. Furthermore, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, to which Mayor Paes belongs, is accused of being at the centre of a wide ranging bribery scandal in the country. In India, several members of the Commonwealth Games organizing committee, including its chairman Suresh Kalmadi, were implicated in a massive corruption scandal that tarnished the legacy of the 2010 Delhi games. They are currently serving prison sentences.

Similar to the forced eviction of slum dwellers in New Delhi in 2010, the mass resettlement of favela residents in Rio de Janeiro has the potential to further stoke the fire of resentment inside the local population of the city.

Despite all the inadequacies leading up to the event, the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth games passed off without any major incident. Although it is now too late for the organizers of Rio 2016 to learn from the mistakes of Delhi 2010, here is hoping that the world’s biggest sporting extravaganza is hailed a resounding success come 21st August.

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