Can flaws in India Commonwealth Games spark reform?
Many Indians hope the missteps leading up to the India Commonwealth Games, which begin in Delhi Sunday, will add momentum to efforts to reform governance.
A bright, young sports medicine doctor, Rajat Chauhan moved his family from London back to India four years ago so he could help his nation prepare for next week’s Commonwealth Games. But since then he has grown so disillusioned because of the missteps leading up to the games that he plans to take a vacation out of Delhi while it hosts the event.Skip to next paragraph
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“The problems [start] once the public sector enters in in any way,” says Dr. Chauhan. “Here, the culture of politics is so bad. It’s just about making money here, and if they are not corrupt, they are simply incompetent.”
Like Chauhan, many Indian citizens are hopping mad over the problems that have marred preparations for the Games. They are supposed to showcase India as an emerging player on the international stage, but allegations of corruption among the organizers, missed deadlines, and shoddy construction of venues have sent a different message abroad.
Among the many embarrassments, so far: a collapsing footbridge, an athletes' village too filthy and incomplete to house early arrivals, and an audit that found safety tests at various sporting venues were fudged.
Contradictions in modern India
At home, the Games have highlighted a growing contradiction about modern India. Even as its companies compete aggressively in the global marketplace, the country’s public sector remains “third world,” with a creaking bureaucracy and crooked politicians.
“Very soon I believe there will be a public anger outburst against politicians who are mismanaging everything in India, including sports,” says Yashwant Deshmukh, an Indian pollster. “They didn’t involve the rest of India [in the Games]. They wanted to keep it for themselves so they could make money off it.”
Still, many Indians like Chauhan wanted to get involved. He had already served on the Cricket World Cup committee and faced a choice: Stay in London for the 2012 Olympics or head to Delhi for the Commonwealth Games.
“I thought I could make a far bigger difference in Delhi, because I saw there was no one,” he says.
So he came to India, started up a rare sports medicine department at a private hospital, and offered to train doctors in the field to service the Games. His outreach went nowhere. Instead, at a medical conference in 2007, a top Games official took to criticizing private sector efforts.
“I offered him help in any form whatsoever. He and other senior officials got agitated as how could a 30-something year old kid comment on such important issues. He told me to sit down and email him, which I did right there. Not surprisingly, I never heard back from them,” says Chauhan.
Years later, as deadlines for the Games loomed with almost no sports medicine doctors on hand, Chauhan received numerous e-mail pleas – shown to this reporter – to come volunteer. Officials ultimately turned to government doctors to staff the venues, none of who have formal training in sports medicine, according to PSM Chandran, president of the Indian Federation of Sports Medicine.