With the Commonwealth Games less than a fortnight away, host city New Delhi is facing an unprecedented PR disaster. The collapse of an incomplete footbridge next to the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, the main venue of the games, injured dozens and killed any hopes that the event would be a success. Some athletes have already withdrawn from the competition and other are threatening to do so. The international media has already highlighted the intolerable lodgings provided for the athletes. The Scottish delegation provided evidence of the dismal living conditions at the games village when they released a photograph of a dog defecating on a bed meant to be used by one of their athletes. What makes it worse for India is that these problems are dwarfed by one major issue: security. The Mumbai attacks of 2008 are still fresh in everyone’s minds and many athletes who have pulled out of the games have cited security issues as their chief concern. The crumbling infrastructure is merely the final nail in Delhi’s Commonwealth Games coffin.
Hosting international sporting events has always been a financial white elephant. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on stadiums that are rarely used again and the benefits of a one-time boost in tourism rarely translate into long-term economic gain. The intangible value of putting on a good show comes in the form of an opportunity to shine on a global stage. The public humiliation will be sobering both for India and for foreign investors, who value infrastructure and efficiency highly. And the damage is not limited to India alone. The developing world as a whole will find it harder to convince other countries to vote for it the next time the venue for an international sporting event is up for grabs. That may be the biggest tragedy of the Commonwealth Games fiasco.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2010.