Thursday, September 9, 2010

Getting it right

The Times of India

Glasgow shows how to get CWG right

CWG 2014 at Glasgow
Full scale construction is on behind this hoarding. (TOI Photo)

Getting stars to the show

One of the biggest concerns for Delhi is that some of the world's best athletes have decided against competing in CWG 2010. The list, which includes mega stars like Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Sir Chris Hoy, Andy Murray, and more recently Stephanie Rice and Victoria Pendleton, has taken considerable sheen off the Delhi Games. The one reason cited for athletes pulling out is the timing of the Games. With European and world competitions, which allow athletes to garner crucial qualification points for the 2012 Olympics, lined up for early November, it is only natural that star athletes would opt to give Delhi a miss. Glasgow, with the Delhi experience before them, has decided to host the Games between July 23 and August 3, 2014. The dates have been fixed in consultation with international sporting federations and every effort is being made to avoid clash with major international competitions.

Says David Grevemberg, COO of Glasgow 2014, "We are in constant touch with the IFs to ensure star athletes don't pull out. If we can ensure that athletes don't lose out by competing in Glasgow, we can surely get the very best to Scotland in four years. Bringing the IFs on board was crucial to our strategy when we bid for the Games." While it is impossible weather wise to host the Games in Delhi in July-August, coordination with the IFs is expected to give the Glasgow organizers an advantage as far as star athletes' participation is concerned. 
Twenty four days to go and Delhi appears to be looking at the clock in dread. Organizers are praying for the rain to stop to get the city in some sort of shape for the Games. At a time like this, TOI decided to get away to the future – to Glasgow, venue of the 2014 Games. The questions on our minds were the obvious ones. Is a state of under-preparedness endemic to a mega event or is Delhi an exception? Are the Glasgow organizers facing similar problems as Delhi or are we being too harsh on Suresh Kalmadi, M S Gill, Sheila Dikshit and the government? Have they learnt from Delhi? And is there anything we can still learn from the future in the little time remaining? Finally, what are the Scottish organizers expecting from the Games in Delhi when they arrive here on September 22? 
This comparison isn't meant as an indictment. Nor is it a ground report that aims to demonstrate the supremacy of the west over the developing world, lending credence to the rather silly argument that the third world is incapable of hosting multi-country mega events. Rather, it aims to document how the preparations for the 2014 Commonwealth Games are progressing, compare the strengths and weaknesses of Glasgow and Delhi, and analyse if in the remaining 24 days we can learn some lessons from future organizers. It is also meant as a stock taking exercise, a balance sheet which aims to point out areas where Delhi could easily have done better. 
First and foremost, the work culture in Glasgow was instructive. It helped put in context what the challenges are with four years to go for the Games and how precious time can be utilized in the lead up to an event to avoid last-minute panic we are witnessing in Delhi. Finally, it seeks to make the point that with 24 days to go for the Games and with the athletes making their way to Delhi in under a week from now, there are still come correctives that we might consider implementing to ensure CWG 2010 isn't an organizational disaster after all.

It needn't cost the earth

The financing of Delhi 2010 has been the subject of parliamentary questioning since 2004. Parliamentary records show that at the time of government approval for the Games in early 2003, the budget estimate had been only Rs 617.5 crore. By March 2003, when Delhi submitted its official bid, the estimates had tripled to Rs 1895.3 crore. By 2008, the minister of sports was estimating a figure of over Rs 7,000 crore and in 2009, the comptroller and auditor general provided a calculation of about Rs 13,000 crore. The final figure, which includes spends on infrastructure, comes to Rs 65,550 crore. The Glasgow budget is minuscule in comparison. It now stands at £520 million or one-sixth of the money being spent in Delhi. Even if we add a 100% increase in spending from here on, Glasgow costs add up to less than half of Delhi. 
While it needs to be acknowledged that the size of Delhi makes certain expenditure almost impossible to curtail, the nature of cost escalation witnessed in Delhi is unheard of in the history of mega events.

Simplify and organize

In Delhi, work is spread across diverse sectors and money is being spent by a bewildering number of agencies. The Delhi Games is a labyrinth of overlapping controls — ministry of sports, ministry of home affairs, ministry of urban development, ministry of tourism, government of Delhi, NDMC, MCD, Sports Authority of India, DDA and finally the Organizing Committee. Besides, there are several high-level committees to coordinate their work, including a GoM headed by urban development minister Jaipal Reddy which has the cabinet secretary and four senior Cabinet ministers as members. The result is that even those involved in organizing the Games do not have the full picture of who is doing what. 
Glasgow, in contrast, has tried to keep it simple. With the organizing committee working closely with the Glasgow City Council and Glasgow Heritage, the structure isn't as complex and as politicized as in Delhi.
At the same time, the success of Glasgow, as vice chair of the 2014 OC, Louise Martin, also secretary general of the Commonwealth Games Federation, suggests "is partly dependant on what happens in Delhi. It is a process of knowledge transfer from one Games to the other and we are looking forward to working closely with the Delhi organizers." 
It can be concluded that while Delhi is up against the clock, Glasgow can continue to breathe easy. Delhi needs a miracle, but Glasgow, with systematic planning from here on, may be in a situation to conduct the event much more smoothly. While Glasgow 2014 can end up being a jackpot, Delhi 2010 can turn into a burden. The next 24 days, however, may yet change things around.

Mega Stadiums or White Elephants?

One of the main criticisms of Delhi is the huge spend on stadiums, which might turn out to be white elephants in the future. Even the revamping of existing infrastructure has cost Delhi 2010 huge amounts of money. The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium for example was constructed to stage the 1982 Asian Games. While there's little resemblance with what it has now been transformed into, the cost incurred, Rs 990 crore, is huge. Such expenditure has added to Delhi's woes making CWG 2010 the costliest Commonwealth Games ever. 
Glasgow, in contrast, is much better off. Says Ian McKenzie, head of venue operations for Glasgow 2014, "The stadiums, which will host the opening and closing ceremonies are already in order. Celtic Park, home of the Celtic football club, will host the opening ceremony. It has a capacity of 60,000 and the OC will spend little or nothing at all on this facility. Only when the Games are on us will we have to spend a little money on overlays. All or any refurbishment, if necessary, will be conducted by Celtic football club and this does make our job much easier." A trip to the facility showed McKenzie was right. It is already a fantastic facility, fully operational and ready to host the opening ceremonies. Even the Scotland National Stadium or Hampden Park, which is to host the closing ceremonies and the athletics competitions, is already fully functional. 
Even the under construction Scotland Exhibition and Conference Centre, which will host six events including rugby, netball, wrestling, weightlifting, boxing and gymnastics is on track to start staging events in 2012, two years before the Games. The gymnastics venue, which will house 12,500 spectators, is being built with private funding and only a little more than 10% of the money is coming from public funds. Once built it is expected to play host to the indoor world championships in 2013. Finally, with archery not part of the Glasgow sports list, the organizers could avoid unnecessary spend on venues with the potential of turning into legacy disasters in the long run.

Cutting Out The Traffic

Anyone who has visited Delhi in recent times has been frustrated with the never ending traffic jams. Minimum time for travel between the domestic and international airports is over an hour. The bountiful monsoon has further compounded the city's misery. The time taken to travel from the Games Village to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is also well over an hour, adding to the woes of the organizers and the participants. That traffic jams continue to be a pressing concern was highlighted by CGF president Michael Fennell when he visited Delhi on August 18. And with just over three weeks to go, there is little chance that Delhi will overcome transportation problems before the Games begin. The best thing about Glasgow, most of the key personnel involved with the Games were unanimous in suggesting, is the proximity of the Games village with the main stadium. Athletes can literally walk from the village to the stadium in under five minutes and the facilities are all within a 100-metre radius currently separated by a 20-metre-wide road. This road, Ian McKenzie says, "will be closed before the Games and traffic sealed off. Athletes will have this area completely to themselves and can walk to the opening ceremony from the village." 
Again, with the Scotland Exhibition and Conference Centre due to host six Games events under one roof, it substantially minimizes commuting problems for the media and delegates. Hotels are being constructed around the SECC and these venues will all be within walking distance for the international media. Finally, the M74 national highway, which is under construction, is expected to ease pressure on city traffic, reducing the time taken to travel from one venue to the other. 
It took us exactly 2 hours and 30 minutes to commute between as many as seven competition sites in Glasgow, an experience almost unthinkable in Delhi.

Getting the Community's Nod

The average Delhiite hardly has a sense of pride in the Games. It is considered a case of misplaced priorities and an attempt at nurturing a fragile sense of national pride. It seems, the only way forward for the Delhi Games from here on is a successful attempt at community integration. Unless the average Delhiite feels a part of the Games experience in the little time remaining, the atmosphere of negativity in the wake of alarming reports of under-preparedness will only deepen. It is the man on the street who will make or break the event. If he or she decides to embrace it in the last leg of its journey, the Games can still stand the test of scrutiny. 
Glasgow, aware of these challenges, has adopted policies of community integration for well over a year now. Even at the time of the bid, a referendum conducted helped demonstrate that the citizens welcomed the games by an overwhelming majority. Contrastingly, Glasgow's main competitor, Halifax, was facing the heat from citizens who perceived the Games as an unnecessary burden on the public exchequer. Ian Hooper, head of legacy for Glasgow 2014, explained, "We were aware from the very start that our citizens are at the heart of the initiative. Unless the bid had the backing of the citizens of Glasgow and also of Scotland, it wouldn't make sense to host the Games. Even a change in government in the interim has hardly impacted preparations for the Games. This is because the government is aware that the people, who really matter, are fully behind the initiative. We have conducted regular referendums and suggestion campaigns, and are now planning a campaign asking citizens to suggest how they wish to be involved with the Games." 
He goes on to say that Glasgow 2014 is on course to launching a programme for the youth in an attempt to bring students from schools and colleges within the legacy framework. "Sport programmes may contribute to social inclusion in schools and at the community level. These will make a positive contribution to reducing youth crime. School sport programmes have been linked to increased educational attainment, school retention and school safety."

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