The Commonwealth Games are nine months away. And the skeptics, who have had a field day, will soon begin to disappear. I am confident that Delhi 2010 will inspire change and reconnect young people with the inspirational power of sport that will come through tellingly from October 3 to 14 this year.
To my mind, the Commonwealth Games is not so much about whether Usain Bolt sprints in Delhi or not but it is about the great opportunity for India to become a sports conscious nation. It is not about whether the best British athletes come or not but it is about a chance for India to encourage its young to go out and play and not just watch superb televised sport in awe.
Yes, the sporting legacy that the Commonwealth Games can and will create important legacies for the host city, India and its sporting ethos can be the largest gains. For, in the past decade and a half, televised events like English Premiership, Formula One racing, NBA basketball, golf and tennis have wooed young Indian audiences and glued them to the armchair in the living rooms.
Of course, Young India has grown up admiring Christiano Ronaldo’s football skills and watched Fernando Alosno emerge Formula One champion; it has sat through nights or woken up early to idolise Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James showcase their talent on basketball courts in the United States of America; it has been split vertically between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s fans – and yes, it is well versed with Tiger Woods’s exploits on the golf course and off it.
These folks, some of their fellow performers – and India’s cricket team – perform on India’s TV sets day in and day out to be able to settle into the collective consciousness of the growing constituency. And the Commonwealth Games offers many of these young Indians to not just watch quality athletes from close quarters and be influenced by them but also to make good use of the changing ethos of sport in India.
The upgrade of sporting infrastructure that Delhi has undertaken will leave it with some world class facilities that can be used for a long time. As many as six synthetic athletics tracks, a superb swimming pool, an indoor velodrome with wooden track, spanking new stadia for weightlifting, table tennis, squash, badminton, netball and rugby 7s are coming up.
With the Government of India spending close to Rs 700 crore for the training of 1126 elite athletes in 18 disciplines under 192 Coaches (Indian and foreign) and 79 support personnel, Indian sport has got a fillip like never before. If they can come up with competitive performances and win a clutch of medals, India’s stars can inspire a whole generation to take up sport as a career.
Away from the athletes themselves, I reckon a whole lot of eager Indian sports officials will learn from the experience of organising an event of this stature and can emerge as a talent bank that can be called upon to help similar ventures. Mark my words, many Indians will gain from the Delhi 2010 experience and conquer the world with their expertise and diligence in the years ahead.
At another level, many Indians will be inspired by getting in touch with visitors from overseas. As many 30,000 volunteers – and lakhs of citizens of Delhi — will discover new cultures and share India’s rich heritage with the visitors from overseas. The numerous friendships that will be sparked during the Games can create enormous goodwill.
The Games will leave a lasting legacy for the city and for the country as well. The infrastructure that is being built – the new terminal at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, the widened Metro Rail network, the new overbridges, the enhanced power generation for Delhi and even the water supply in areas like Daryagunj are things that spring to mind – will ensure that the impact of the Games will be felt long after the last medal is given away on October 14 this year.
As for India, the successful conduct of the Games will lead to India becoming a more popular destination – and we are not talking of India as just a major sporting hub in the region. Some estimates of the economic impact of the Games will have us believe that India’s GDP will benefit by close to $4500 million over four years.
Yes, of course, India faces the challenge of delivering the Games successfully. But the larger challenge is in making young Indians believe that they can be much more than mere armchair fans of televised sport. India’s sports administrators will have to ensure that this opportunity does not slip by them and that they can inspire Indians to come out and play!
(This article first appeared in Dainik Bhaskar, Bhopal on January 10, 2010)