Making India a global destination for sports (Commonwealth countdown)

June 25th, 2010 - 4:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Davis Cup By Pragya Tiwari
(Attn Editors: This is the third of the 100-day countdown series for the 19th Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. The main curtain raiser on overall preparation ran Wednesday. This is about the India’s sporting infrastructure preparations.)

New Delhi, June 25 (IANS) The one lasting legacy of the Commonwealth Games will be the 12 state-of-the-art stadiums that were built or renovated for what will be India biggest sporting event, making Delhi a major global destination for sports. The new facilities may have tempted Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit to proudly term the national capital an Olympic city.

So moved is veteran sports administrator Randhir Singh that he has suggested that the next stop could be the Asian Games, of which India has hosted two editions, and even the Olympics.

“The Commonwealth Games will act as a springboard for hosting the Olympics. With the present infrastructure, we can bid for the Asian Games,” Randhir Singh, vice chairman of Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, told IANS.

Brave words these are, given the arduous journey it has been to get the facilities in shape at a staggering cost of Rs.15,000 crore ($3.25 billion) for the Oct 3-14 Commonwealth Games that will see the participation over 8,000 athletes from more than 70 countries.

Eight months ago, when the 365-day countdown to the Games began, there was a huge question mark on Delhi’s readiness to host the Games. Yet, after spiralling infrastructure costs, repeated revisions of budgetary estimates and allocations and fears over meeting the construction deadlines, the infrastructure is finally falling in place barely 100 days before the start of the Games.

The biggest worry of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) was the tardy progress on the Games Village, which is being constructed by the private-sector Emaar-MGF, with costs escalating to Rs.1,038 crore after receiving a Rs.700-crore bailout package from the Delhi Development Authority. Now, it’s well on the way to completion.

The cost for renovating the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, which will host the opening and closing ceremonies, was revised to Rs.961 crore from Rs.455 crore. Similarly, for the Karni Singh Shooting Range, the budget increased to Rs.149 crore from the original Rs.16 crore.

Much of the allocation, the Games organising committee insisted, is a loan and will be repaid through marketing the event.

More than once, the CGF pulled up the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee for delays in delivery of the projects by different government agencies. Ground work at almost all the stadiums began late, but the workforce was increased three-fold to finish it just in time. Come to think of it, the major venues were actually constructed for the 1982 Asian Games and have undergone large-scale renovation. Then, there are 26 training facilities.

Almost all the stadiums have already been tested even as they were being given finishing touches. The only facilities which are still to be used for trial events are the Jawaharalal Nehru Stadium complex and the Shyama Prasad Mukherjee swimming complex.

The end product has been satisfying, albeit with a few niggles, which have been promised to be looked into by the time the mega event kicks off.

So far, eight test events have successfully taken place and CGF CEO Mike Hooper says the shortcomings have been taken into account.

“There were some teething troubles during the pre-Games events to test the facilities, but by and large they were fairly successful. Whatever shortcoming were there we have worked on them,” Hooper, who had fallen foul with the Organising Committee for initially expressing doubts over India’s preparedness, had told IANS.

“The Hockey World Cup was a big success. The preliminary FIH report after the event pointed out some operational problems. We will work on them and that’s how a mega event like the Commonwealth Games is organised,” Hooper added.

The test events began with the successful hosting of the hockey World Cup in March, where 12 nations participated and appreciated the refurbished Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium spread over 37 acres. The 16,200-capacity stadium has two synthetic pitches and an additional practice pitch.

The stadium has ultra-modern facilities for players like change rooms, lounges and a state-of-the-art sound system with acoustic effects. The stadium also has floodlights to provide 2,200 lux illumination.

In April, the newly built badminton stadium at Siri Fort hosted the Badminton Asia Championship. The stadium has five courts and a warm-up arena with around 5,000 seating capacity.

“The stadium has facilities of international standards for players players and guests. It is in the heart of the capital, which is an added attraction. The players are happy with the fully-equipped stadium. It matches up to the world standard in its size, capacity and architecture,” Badminton Association of India (BAI) president V.K. Verma told IANS.

“We are now holding talks to make it a dedicated venue for badminton,” said Verma, who has announced that the new Indian Open Super Series will be held at the venue.

Tennis, in which India expects at least four medals at the Games, also has a revamped stadium in the R.K. Khanna tennis complex with newly-laid 14 courts with plexi-turf. The courts have got a thumbs-up from players and coaches.

South African Davis Cupper Rik De Voest, who was here in May for a $15,000 International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournament, feels the stadium is at par with the best in the world.

“It definitely has an international look. The courts are good and I am really looking forward to playing in the Commonwealth Games,” Voest said.

Nar Singh, director of coaching at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA), feels the stadium is easily the best in Asia.

“I have seen stadiums all over the world and this one is the best in Asia. The seating capacity at the centre court is around 5,000 while the other show court has a 1,500 seating capacity. The courts are ideal to develop the game of upcoming players,” he said.

However, some sports federation are not as lucky. In fact, they wonder what will happen to the stadiums once the Games are over.

Boxing Federation of India secretary general P.K. Muralidharan Raja said the Talkatora Stadium, which is the boxing venue, is not a dedicated facility for sports.

“We don’t know for what purpose it will be used after the Commonwealth Games. We do not have a boxing arena in the capital and we have to depend on the railway stadium for practice. I have raised this issue with the sports minister and (Indian Olympic Association chief) Suresh Kalmadi that a dedicated facility for boxing should be built,” Raja told IANS.

Even the rugby sevens officials fear the plush stadium constructed for the Games at the Delhi University will be turned into a cricket stadium once the mega event is over.

“Rugby sevens is fast catching up, it is now even a part of the Olympic Games. We were delighted when we saw this new world class venue but we are now hearing that it will be turned into a cricket stadium once the Games are over. It’s sad. We don’t have even one dedicated ground in the country,” India’s rugby captain Nasser Hussain said.

The hiccups apart, it is clear that the optimism of the organising committee’s Randhir Singh is not misplaced.

(Pragya Tiwari can be contacted at pragya.t@ians.in)

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