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The games go on May 2, 2011

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

Brian Stoddart

A few short months ago Suresh Kalmadi reigned supreme as the Commonwealth Games went off successfully in Delhi, even if the lead-in was troubled.  He was seen to have delivered on a showcase that set India towards hosting a future Olympics and demonstrated the “new” India’s capability for doing almost anything.

How times are now changed as he awaits the next steps in a prison cell, having been charged on several counts in connection with the letting of the CWG contracts for the Queen’s Baton Relay and with several other charges pending.  Among the latter, it is speculated, are included his alleged forged signing of official documents relating to a contract for Events Knowledge Services (EKS), the Swiss-based group brought in to “save” the Games.  His two chief aides are awaiting trial.  He has been stripped of his post as President of the Indian Olympic Association.

While several inquiries were initiated in wake of the Games and its alleged business and financial irregularities, the present rush has emerged from the proceedings of the V.K. Shunglu inquiry ordered by the Prime Minister’s Office.  A series of reports began issuing about two months ago, and the findings have been spectacular if contested.  The broadcast and telecast rights for the Games, for example, were found to have been issued at inflated bid levels and against much advice.  The Director-General of Doordarshan was stood down.  The issuing  agency was found to have connections to the winning bidders .  As a result of dubious practice, there may have been losses to the Organising Committee’s coffers of up to Rs 135 crore.

The biggest question mark hovers over the Games village and the commercial arrangements around that.  Shunglu has reported that deliberately delayed decision-making, favouritism towards the preferred developer and bailouts for that developer led to enormous losses.  Importantly, the Delhi Development Authority was thought to have been complicit in this, and that the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi was deeply involved.  That then went on to morph into the overhaul of Delhi’s reconstruction for the Games, and Shunglu suggests that the Sheila Dixsit  Government was involved in deliberate delays and favouritism.

And swinging matters towards Kalmadi again, the Shunglu Committee has expressed the view that many had maintained privately for a long time: that the leadership and staffing of the Organising Committee was based not on ability but on connections.

Not surprisingly all of the named agencies and people have protested the findings, especially the Delhi Government that has issued a long and vigorous rebuttal of all the charges.  That includes the Commonwealth Games Federation, angered by allegations that its appointment of CEO Mike Hooper and associated actions have also been questioned by Shunglu.  That goes to the EKS appointment, because the CWG, it will be recalled, threatened to take the Games away from Delhi because of poor preparation performance.  Hooper was seen as an abrasive and uncooperative CEO in Delhi, and the CWG effectively insisted that some agency like EKS be brought in.

One further development is of interest.  Among the many contracts under question is one awarded to the Australian-based Sports Management and Marketing (SMAM) group, a long established leader in the field.  SMAM was hired to raise sponsorship funds but that relationship was always uneasy, and the contract was terminated about the time of the Games on the basis of non-performance that SMAM contests hotly.  The Organising Committee is now in further discussion with SMAM and seems likely to initiate an Rs 700 crore damages action against the group for failing to raise sponsorship.

The background noise here is loud, not least because of the speculation around just who might be next now that Kalmadi has been charged.  Insiders at the Organising Committee are allegedly saying that there are far worse cases of contract irregularities than the one on which he has been charged, and that the network of senior and public figures who could be implicated is spectacularly widespread.

This is of considerable concern to the struggling Manmohan Singh led government under whose watch all this occurred, not the least because the Shunglu Committee has also castigated the government’s own oversight committee, led by Jaipal Reddy, for its inactivity in letting all this develop.  The BJP is having a field day, naturally, and Congress figures are working hard to counteract that, hence the vigorous action and protestation from the Delhi government.

Kalmadi has been cut loose by the government – it was at Delhi’s suggestion, for example, that the IOA stood Kalmadi down as President.  That was an opportune moment for Delhi to reprise its efforts to cut the sports power bases of long-time incumbents and political figures like Kalmadi, but it was also a signal that Kalmadi would take the brunt of the blame for CWG matters.  Political figures and others in industry and commerce associated with Kalmadi will no doubt be consulting their lawyers and publicists.

Despite the protestations and rebuttals from the named parties, what now happens to Kalmadi will be the moment that determines just how much of this CWG-related opportunism and irregularity will reach public notice, to the detriment of the government itself at a highly sensitive political time.

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