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India’s Commonwealth Games Begin Spectacularly … Let’s hope they end without mishap October 4, 2010

Posted by Bob Cook in Asian Expansion.
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Update on 17 October 2010:  The games have come and gone.  Nothing extraordinarily bad happened.   Whew!  Reviews are mixed.  The Wall Street Journal’s take was that the “India Games Fall Shy of Goals” but the New York Times noted that India Declares the Commonwealth Games a Success.   India’s poor performance …or at least the perception thereof … in preparing for the Games is likely to hurt any future attempt to get the Olympics held in India.  And that’s a big blow to the India in its rivalry with China which hosted a spectacular Olympics in 2008.  The Prime Miinister has called for a Commonwealth Games inquiry, but even if the root causes of the preparation problems are uncovered and fixed … and one wonders if they could be easily … the damage to India’s reputation as a host country for international events has been done.  It could take decades to repair that soiled reputation, particularly within the Commonwealth where the story of the Games and the preparation problems were front-page news.

Original Post:

India is unique.  It’s the world’s largest democracy, second most populous nation, third strongest attractor of foreign direct investment, and using Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) stats, the fourth biggest economy.  

It’s a place of great hope and great aspirations … a place where corporate real estate folks are spending more time … helping their companies tap the talent in India … and not just in Bangalore.   Now many are following the lead of some big companies, going to places like Mysore (Infosys), Hyderabad (Microsoft), and Chennai (Nokia).   

But, alas, India … the land of contrasts … also has the most people living in poverty, has the worst infrastructure among emerging economies and ranks dead last among those economies for economic risk.

As such, there were a lot of worries about India hosting the Commonwealth Games.  Would it be able to pull it off?   In the weeks leading up to the Games, worries escalated as facilities-still-under-construction looked to be not anywhere near ready.   Ceilings collapsed.  The Athletes Village was filthy.  England … the mother of the Commonwealth … considered not attending the Games. 

Even just a few days before the Opening Ceremony, things didn’t look so good.  The subway wasn’t ready.  Construction debris was everywhere.  Health hazards abounded.  Some athletes, citing not-very-severe  injuries, announced they would not attend.  One who did attend came down with Dengue Fever.

But … oh, ye of poor faith … we’re talking about “last-minute”, ”we’ll-get-it-done” India.  And they did.

The Games opened on time, as did the subway.  Sunday’s opening ceremony was, by most accounts, well-done … maybe even spectacular (although the bar for that superlative has been set impossibly high by the opening of the Beijing Olympics back in 2008).   So, things are looking pretty good.  Let’s cross our fingers, though.

For those of us who have done work in India, we know that it’s what’s under the surface that you have to watch out for … both metaphorically and, in the case of construction work, quite literally.   Tight deadlines, inadequately skilled workers and corrupt building inspectors make for a frighteningly bad curry.  Buildings can be made to look good, as long as you leave enough budget for redoing the aesthetic screw-ups.  But what’s underneath the surface?  That’s what you need to worry about.

And I, for one, am a bit worried.  Gathering tens of thousands of people into facilities that have been completed just-in-the-nick-of-time, with a nation’s self-image and international reputation on the line, is worrisome.  Let’s hope all goes swimmingly, that there are no mishaps and that at the end of the Games, as Commonwealth visitors leave, they cry out to their Indian host a loud “cheerio” and a louder “well done”. 

Let’s all hope.

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