Bengaluru: On October 15, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hardly misses an opportunity to congratulate an Indian athlete whenever they achieve something significant, delivered an important message that can potentially change the landscape of sports in the country. While inaugurating the 141st Session of the International Olympic Committee in Mumbai, Modi amplified what the Sports Ministry had been sounding out in hushed voices over the last few months. Buoyed by the success of the G20 Summit in New Delhi earlier this month, Modi felt time was right to show India’s growing political and economic clout to a global audience of seasoned sports administrators and athletes.
“Indians are very excited about hosting the Olympic Games. India will leave no stone unturned in organising the 2036 Olympics. This is a dream of 140 crore Indians. We want to fulfil this dream with your support. We are willing to host the 2029 Youth Olympics. I am sure India will get constant support from IOC,” the Prime Minister proclaimed as IOC president Thomas Bach watched.
Modi’s statement, obviously, instantly drew cheer from the sporting fraternity with several athletes egging the Indian Olympic Committee to go forward with the ambition and make a strong pitch for it. With India finally hitting the triple digit mark at the recently-concluded Asian Games in Hangzhou — the country won 107 medals — many felt hosting the Olympics 13 years from now would provide a catalytic change similar to what the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi did in 2010.
“From an athlete’s point of view, it’s the dream of every athlete to compete in an Olympics. Now imagine if the dream is realised in front of your own citizens. It’s massive,” former shooter and IOA vice-president Gagan Narang, who won a bronze medal at 2012 London Olympics, told DHoS. “As a kid watching the flame being lit for the Barcelona Olympics at the opening ceremony lit the Olympic dream inside me. Now imagine what that would do to several Indian kids when they watch an Olympic flame being lit in the country. It’s massive and unimaginable.
“Hosting the Olympics is a great way to change the sporting culture in the country. The Commonwealth Games in 2010 was an incredible stepping stone for our generation of athletes and the results are to be seen in subsequent Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and Olympics where we have been continuously increasing our medals tally. Olympics is the most important sporting event in the world and hosting it would be a matter of great pride for the country,” added Narang, who runs the Gun For Glory Shooting Academy in Hyderabad that has been grooming several top shooters for more than a decade now.
Narang is right on cue about the benefits of hosting the Olympics. It makes India the cynosure of the world (not just sporting), athletes would become the ultimate beneficiaries of world-class training facilities and sporting arenas, the influx of thousands of athletes, dignitaries, media and fans gives the tourism sector a massive boost, citizens of the chosen city will end up enjoying the road-rail infrastructure that has to be built for the Games….the positives are manifold. But then, when you have pros, you also have a set of cons and the negatives could potentially outweigh the positives in the case of Olympic Games, especially for developing countries.
Firstly the humungous cost. Hosting the Olympics, especially when things have to be built from the scratch, costs billions of dollars. According to reports, Tokyo, a city that already had a great infrastructure in place, had to spend approximately $15 billion to stage the games in 2021. Rio spent $13 billion in 2016, London – the2012 hosts – splurged $11 billion while China went all-out and pumped in $44 billion to stage the 2008 Games. Athens spent $15 billion in 2004 while Sydney had to cough up $7 billion.
A reason why the costs are so astronomical is because of the mandates set by IOC for a hosting city. The IOC requires the hosting city to have approximately 50,000 rooms available and cities will literally have to spend huge amounts not just on venues but in building brand new hotels. Roads have to be upgraded, metro or train lines have to be built and the airport should be capable enough to handle lakhs of commuters who would be pouring in during the Games. While the general public eventually become the ultimate beneficiaries of the upgraded civic infrastructure, like Delhiites are experiencing now following the 2010 CWG, it still begs the question should India, where several cities don’t even boast of having a decent sporting infrastructure, should spend so much money on hosting the Olympics, perhaps for the sake of pride.
Secondly, apart from the heavy costs involved, it takes a lot of effort and time to convince IOC to hand the hosting rights of the Olympics. Unlike in the past when countries had to enter a long-drawn bidding process, interested nations have to present their proposal of interest to the IOC FutureHost Commission which will then vet and send its preferred candidate to the Executive Board. The Executive Board then can enter a dialogue with the country with a bid and decide whether to recommend that proposal be brought to a vote at an IOC session. If India decides to bid for the Games, it could be competing with South Korea, Mexico, Germany and Italy. So would India be better off in spending all that time and resources on simply upgrading existing facilities here in tier two and three cities first rather than trying to convince IOC to grant a project that will burn a massive hole in country’s finances.
“The question my friend, should not be why shouldn’t India be hosting the Games but why can’t India host the Games,” asked Athletics Federation of India president Adille Sumariwalla. “Some people fail to look at the bigger picture. Look at what happened to India and Delhi post the CWG. Indian athletes’ performance has risen since 2010 while Delhiites enjoy the perks of the metro lines built for the those Games. Indians, in general, are beneficiaries of the airport which has been appreciated by many while athletes continue to make the most of the venues built for the Games. So the huge money spent is not just for the Games but for the overall growth of the city and sports.
“Also look at the amount of jobs it will generate. Several big companies will want to invest more in the country. Be it Sydney, London, Rio or Tokyo, all these cities have seen an uptick in tourism post the Olympic Games. The same will happen to India as well. Apart from that fresh trade agreements could be made. India has successfully staged Asian Games, CWG, cricket World Cups and it’s time we give wings to our growing dreams and aspirations. Yes, there will be naysayers but according to me, the economic benefits far outweigh the negatives, especially for India whose clout in the international world has been growing day by day,” added Sumariwalla, who is also the vice-president of World Athletics and is planning to bid for the World Athletics Championships.
Sumariwalla, a brilliant sprinter in his heydays, is also right like Narang, a top shooter turned administrator. Having played the sport and now governing it, they see a lot of positives, and rightly so. But then for a country where several top athletes still come from humble backgounds and many others struggle to make ends meet, is it a case of misplaced priority? It’s a hard question to answer.
(Published 21 October 2023, 16:31 IST)