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The CWG after-party October 20, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , trackback

Brian Stoddart

Predictably, the actual athletic events in Delhi went off quite well, and better so in some cases. Australia won the medal count and, even allowing for its home advantage, India itself did exceptionally well in disciplines like wrestling, shooting and archery. Even in hockey, where the lead-up was especially troubled, India reached the men’s final only to be thrashed by Australia. England made up the trio of top performers, perhaps providing comfort for them in the rundown to the 2012 Olympics with Scotland having something to think about in its approach to the 2014 Commonwealth event. Very few athletes were done for doping, a few were done for being dopey, the closing ceremony was a triumph, the pinnacle of a couple of weeks where things went from bad to better.

The aftermath is still grim, however. The BJP and an array of minority groups are pressing for a quick investigation of CWG-related corruption allegations. Mani Shankar Aiyar, the former Congress Minister for Sport and a trenchant CWG critic, is adamant that the event was too expensive by a factor of several, and that the publicity that preceded the event has damaged India’s reputation deeply. He may well be right: allegations of fraud and malpractice are still emerging, various anti-corruption and tax agencies are pursuing a myriad of inquiries and there is general agreement that despite whatever success was eventually achieved, the cost was much too high in a country with more pressing social concerns.

That seems to have sparked some thinking within the Commonwealth Games Federation community that the scope and nature and size of the Games might need to be reviewed. That masks the essential question about the on-going viability of the Games as the Commonwealth concept itself comes under further pressure. As noted in an earlier post, Delhi’s pitch for the Games was less about the Commonwealth than about the globe, which is why the corruption allegations have had so deep a resonation: this was about the new world order, not about the remnants of a colonial past.

The full impact on global business attitudes will take some time to appear. The sheer volume of goods and services now emanating from India, along with the investment capital buying into Australian energy sources as part of a world thrust will keep the momentum going for some time. However, any confirmation that the allegations of corruption and contract rigging have substance will create caution on the part of the world’s trading community, and India is no doubt already devising a schmoozing campaign to counter that eventuality.

Peter Varghese, Australia’s High Commissioner in Delhi, will be one person probably relieved that the CWG has come and gone. Some Australian companies are still in the inquiry frame. The Victoria Police internal email cartoon that surfaced suggesting electrocution as the solution to the Indian student issue saw him carpeted once more by the Indian authorities. Then came the arrest in Delhi of an Australian accused of aid and development corruption in Afghanistan by American intelligence agents. And all that without any mention of uranium or students, even though it appears that far fewer of those will be in Australian universities in 2011, leading some institutions to budget cuts.

What that all says for the Australia–India relationship is interesting. India performing so well will give it heart in the international sports stakes, although wise heads will resist the temptation to transfer that into Olympics projections. Australia, of course, lost the concurrent two-test cricket series with Sachin Tendulkar again reminding just how great a figure he is in the history of the game. At the broader level, though, the reaction to the Victoria Police issue suggests that the relationship is still fragile, and that a concerted effort is needed on Australia’s part to improve the connection substantially over time. The Australian Commonwealth Games organisation was a constant and prominent critic of Delhi’s development, so India’s on-field success has added an edge there. Similarly, John Coates’ aggressive comments, that Delhi would have never got the Games in the first place had it been done by the Olympic movement, will not be easily forgotten in India.

There has been considerable repetition of the fact that the voracious Indian media industry in the last week of the Games switched from attack hound to house dog, and that will bear some investigation. However, that media will return its attention more fully to another of modern India’s sport/global parables, the Indian Premier League (IPL). Its formerly feted boss, Lalit Modi, is now fighting off not only formal charges from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), but also money laundering and tax charges. In large part those stem from his involvement with two franchises, the Rajasthan Royals (captained by Shane Warne) and the Kings XI Punjab, both of which have now been disenfranchised by the new IPL management team. Modi threatens to tell all, international commentators point out several inconsistencies in the BCCI/IPL approach including conflict of interest. Modi himself is said to have his private jet parked in London where he has escaped, and is reportedly seeking residential status in Iceland. Not much cricket there.

Given all that, for the media the CWG revelations will soon fall away, but the after effects will prevail and the Australia–India relationship will be caught up in that.

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