Power of criticism

The opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games was a success. It must have surprised many who had witnessed a disaster situation at the Games Village. One cannot blame the media here or abroad for the negative publicity as one cannot afford to deny the facts concerning poor preparations for the Games. I cannot believe that those in authority were oblivious to the deplorable condition of the Games Village.

It is sad that India has been ridiculed as a nation for something that was simple and uncomplicated. The boos and jeers that greeted Commonwealth Games Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi when he started giving the speech at the opening ceremony were not meant for him alone.
I must mention that the packed stadium and public enthusiasm were a tribute to those who toiled, performed and delivered within the constraints. It is no surprise that Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit got a positive response for her efforts to salvage the situation when she, along with her team, took over the Games Village. We do not need the services of an eminent astrologer to predict the outcome of the Games and I have little doubt that the closing ceremony will also be a great success.
Over the past decade India’s growth — which is in excess of eight per cent — cannot be attributed to the wisdom of a handful of individuals in governance but to the all-round efforts of everyone.
If you look around you will find “superstars” in every field. Having seen governance at a senior level for close to three decades I have little doubt in stating that we have created more than a mere “miracle” as a nation. Look at the amount of talented people India has in every field be it politics, industries, science, education, fine arts et cetera.
Sadly, the Games threatened to wreck a reputation built over a decade and the public will not overlook this lapse if those in governance fail to take action once the Games get over. This issue is not about sports alone but covers every aspect of governance.
As I write this we have won a thrilling Test match against Australia and I cannot think of anyone who was not glued to the TV set on the last day of the Test match.
Cricket is in a class of its own but for the first time in the decade we find tennis, badminton, golf, boxing, wrestling and many other sports getting greater recognition. This list will continue to grow with the additional exposure that sports like netball will get post-Commonwealth Games.
There will be a new list of champions in every sporting discipline and we have to carefully assess if we have the administrative structure to deal with this situation. The management of sports is going to be a major issue. As endorsements and private financial aid increase, things will become more professional. Change is “inevitable”!
We are off to a splendid start in the Commonwealth Games but the attendance of the audience is very poor and much of this has to do with Doordarshan and DD Sports coverage. Also, watching sports is no longer considered a “family” outing. According to me, the tight security at the Games venues has acted as a deterrent but sadly it has become unavoidable.
With the security constraints we cannot expect great attendance at venues, except perhaps on the last few days. Looking at the future we should allow school and college students to attend the Games. With this, thousands of young children will benefit and this will not raise any security issues either.
We have to be practical. Currently, the biggest sources of family entertainment are shopping malls, multiplexes and the hundreds of restaurants that cater to every budget and every class of society.
Malls and multiplexes are packed to capacity and we see TV sets appearing in every corner of the malls. Here one must note that even if the attendance is low at the venues, the Games are being watched.
While I agree that few of us will forget the splendid efforts of V.V.S. Laxman and the young Ishant Sharma and only a few will remember the names of the wrestlers and shooters who won gold medals, the popularity of sports other than cricket is also soaring and this change is coming about rather swiftly.
Besides the efforts of the governments at the Centre and in the states, the sports associations and the media have a vital role to play. I was delighted to see a TV show on CNN-IBN that paid tribute to our superstars of yesteryears. If we examine this carefully, there is a message in this for all of us.
I am sure that the closing ceremony of the Games will be a grand affair and we will again see a multitude of VVIP and VIP guests with their security contingents (everything is at public expense), I sometimes wonder how many were able to visit and see the Games besides the ritual opening and closing ceremonies.
The VIPs and VVIPs will face few problems but the public will encounter several security obstacles and will have to wait for three or four hours before they can take their seats.
My suggestion for the future is to have a VIP enclosure for eminent players from all sports and this should also include sportspersons from schools and colleges. It would be a splendid opportunity for us to show our respect for the people who dedicated their lives to various sports and brought glory to the country.
We have miles to go but I feel that the next five years could be made special as we could learn to make the best use of the opportunities that are given to us. As the closing ceremony takes place, it will be time for introspection with optimism. India should make bidding for the Olympics its next objective.

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister

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