Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > June 22, 2007 > Asiad Games versus the Poor

Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 27

Asiad Games versus the Poor

Monday 25 June 2007, by Rajindar Sachar

I am greatly relieved that the Asiad Games bid by the Government of India has failed. I know, I am inviting the charge of being anti-patriotic and sports-spoiler but I feel so strongly about it that I am prepared to take the risk of being so charged, which in fact is not true.

Let me at once disabuse anyone of my being anti-sports. In my college days in 1945, I was Triple holder of Punjab Tennis Championship. So at best my bonafides should not be suspicious.

My opposition arises from the perversion of priorities shown by official agencies to the complete insensitivity to the real problem being faced by masses and a readiness for unconscionable reckless expense which could and should be utilised for the uplift of poor millions. The canard that ventures like Commonwealth or Asiad Games add to development of infrastructure in the city and to the encouragement of sports amongst the mass of poor people is puerile and not borne out by actual experience.

We have had Asiad in eighties. But the sports victories have not improved. Stadiums have remained unused for years and then put to non-sports and even for temporary residence of security forces.

The Employment Guarantee Scheme is being reduced to 100 days of employment in 200 districts rather 200 days in all 500 districts as was originally announced. The apparent reason being shortage of funds. But this contrasts so embarrassingly with the open offer by the Association to give couple of million dollars to each of the participants. The poor in the country should be thankful that in this game of bribe-prone incentives, we were outbidden. The lament of the organisers that a terrific blow has been struck at the sports climate in the country is phoney. Our sporting spirit is such that in spite of our credible proud record of Cricket Championship victories in the past, we bay for the blood of our fine team because they were out in the World Cup. The canard that these Games help in developing the city, especially Delhi, is belied on the face of it. None of the expenses on the previous Asiad has relieved the poor of his housing needs—Delhi is reeling under electricity breakdown and shortage, water is not available even for two hours in most of the localities, half of Delhi is without toilet and water taps at home. Of course, we have added five-star hotels and malls—they only create an illusion of development. The only worthwhile and pro- masses development is the Metro and that has nothing to do with the infrastructure conceived by the Games clique.

Our country has officially over 301 million people below the poverty level—which in reality means the capacity per individual to spend daily only Rs 12 (in rural areas) and Rs 18 (in urban areas); if the unofficial modest figure of Rs 820 p.m. was taken as the poverty level, only 10 per cent of the country’s population would be above the poverty level.

With our overwhelming mass of people growing under such gruesome deprivation, the effort of the organisers to purportedly call these Games as beneficial to the people reminds one of the Circuses held by the last of the Roman Emperors and the suicidal strain of Queen Marie Antoinettee, who chided the starving mob who were protesting at the lack of bread by shouting that if they do not have bread, let them instead eat cakes.

It is fallacious to assume that holding the Asiad Games in the present circumstances will enhance the prestige of India amongst the comity of nations. Have the organisers not heard that there are now arranged for foreigners slum tours meaning visitors are taken to our shanties, and filthy dwellings of the poor? The answer to that is not to waste resources in ornamental Asiad Games, but to open more schools, reduce malnutrition amongst children, and provide sports facilities and libraries and common room in the poor localities, give training to the young hopefuls, have incharges who are sports persons and not political favourities out to capture funding and enjoy foreign jauntings. While three biilionaries in the Forbes fortune list get headlines in all the news media, only a passing reference is given to the fact that a child goes on an average between three to four years to school, 300 million are unemployed/employable, and only 45 million have actually registered with the employment offices with little or no hope of getting employment. The World Bank’s definition of US $ 1 per day per person, or US $ 365 per year is the extreme poverty line. Only five per cent of Indians understand English, yet most of the websites of the Government of India, State Governments and public institutions are in English!

The number of very poor (that is, below the poverty line) was 115 million in 2004-05. A sum of Rs 57,000 crores (25 per cent of the cost of our Indian bureaucracy), if saved, could bring everybody above the poverty line. I therefore, beseech governments to work towards that end—say good bye to holding such Games for two decades. The debate on this matter has to be done with an open mind and not on the false premises of the country’s honour.

Too often we have seen these officials and sporting enthusiasts in government going on extended holidays abroad, all in the name of how various foreign countries had made preparations when they held the Games—the group included officials who had nothing to do with preparation for the Games and were actually due to retire on return. We have also vivid instances of how our potential young sportsperson, when taken abroad, were put up in dormitories in low-priced motels, while the managers, the official coterie (many of them may not even be knowing the technique of the concerned game) holidaying regally in five- star hotels.

Enough of hypocrisy and wasteful expense at the cost of our young sportsmen and sports women—divert this money to train/equip them, give them equipment on a world standard, ensure their career and let sportspersons of recognition be in charge; throw off the yoke of transitory politicians and free sports from the stranglehold of bloated bureaucrats (none of whom could even distinguish a penalty corner from a head hit). The recent tragic shooting by a University student in the USA giving vent to his frustration at the vulgar display of Mercedes wealth by co-students should give a warning to our so-called Asiad Game enthusiasts that poverty cannot be wished away by the Roman Circus of the Asiad Games. The poor will no longer tolerate the vulgar display of extravaganza of the Games to satisfy the vanity of well connected while denying him the common necessities and asking him to continue wallowing in poverty and filth.

The author is a former Chief Justice (now retired) of the Delhi High Court. An erstwhile President, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, he was the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Housing and a Member of the UN Sub-Commision on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.

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