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Aspirational, but challenging

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement that India would bid for the 2036 summer Olympics is a mark of aspirations and a sign of the confidence in India’s global outreach.

The Prime Minister’s statement at the International Olympic Committee session in Mumbai that India “would leave no stone unturned” in its bid to host the 2036 sports extravaganza showed that the government is serious about its efforts to win it for the country. India also wants to host the Youth Olympics in 2029. Olympics is not just a sports event.

It is also an economic, socio-cultural and political event that projects a country’s soft power as no other world event does. Countries that want to assert or reassert their position on the global arena have opted to stage the greatest show on earth to seek legitimacy, to impress, to make political and diplomatic gains, or to promote tourism and the economy.

But most countries, especially in recent times, have found that the returns from hosting Olympics are not commensurate with the investment of all the efforts and resources in it. Olympics demands huge investments. Greece almost went broke after the 2004 Athens Games, impacting the entire European Union (EU) economy.

The British government regretted holding the 2012 London Games and there were public protests against the holding of the Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and in Tokyo in 2021. There is always cost escalation becauseOlympics plans are always for the far future and unexpectedevents can happen, such as the Covid pandemic which upset the Tokyo Games plans.

Australia and Canada have pulled out of the 2026 and the 2030 Commonwealth Games. Huge infrastructure is to be built for the Games, for hospitality and for other purposes, and often it amounts to building a new city. Very often it has been found that the infrastructure built for the Games is underutilised later, and many cities have found it difficult to maintain it after the event.

The venue for the 2036 Games will be decided and announced, after bidding, probably only in 2025. Mexico and Poland may also bid for the Games.

An Olympics in India might cost about $20 billion (more than Rs 1.6 lakh crore at current rates). It will take a huge effort to make an Indian city ready for the event in about 10 years. India has improved its position at international sports events in recent years and made an impressive performance with a 107-medal tally at the recently concluded Asian Games.

An Olympics ahead will be inspirational and can raise the country’s global profile when it takes place. But the challenges it poses are huge.

(Published 17 October 2023, 20:37 IST)

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