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Sports, politics, prestige and power: the struggle over the new bill September 30, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

While Suresh Kalamadi and colleagues sit it out in Tihar jail, awaiting results of their post-Commonwealth Games charges, Sports Minister Ajay Maken is struggling to gain acceptance for his Bill that would reform India’s sports management and administration, one measure against many to counter both the suggestions of corruption and international criticism. This is no simple matter. An earlier attempt, before the full catastrophe of the Games emerged, was roundly defeated as several Government Ministers including Kalmadi and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar (better known as the Chair of the International Cricket Council and former President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)).

One of the central issues this time round is that Maken – a Delhi man with a trades union background – wants all sports bodies in India to be subject to the Right To Information (RTI legislation). This is being fought bitterly by many if not most of the sports bodies, and principally by the now extremely cashed up BCCI. Automatically, that leads many to think that the opposition emerges from the need not to have all or certain information emerge to full public scrutiny. The push for the RTI angle comes obviously in the Games’ aftermath amidst the revelations of alleged kickbacks, preferential tendering, bogus tenders and invoices, tampered bids and all the rest, but why the ferocious attempts to prevent the measure.

A good deal of this comes from the complex and intertwined social, financial, business and political roles played by leading sports administrators, as the cricket case reveals.

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The ghost of games past August 17, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

There must now surely be moments when senior political figures like Manmohan Singh and Sheila Diksit wish they had never heard of let alone promoted the Commonwealth Games.  Suresh Kalmadi, the disgraced politician and former supremo of the Organising Committee for the Delhi Games would be among the lamenters as he languishes in Tihar jail awaiting trial on corruption charges, and dealing with what might well be dementia.

The arrests roll on.  The latest include two principals of the Indian subcontracting company associated with Swiss Timing, the alleged beneficiary of one of the flawed tender processes in which Kalmadi is said to have been corrupt.  Another issue already out in the open concerns the award of two media contracts in India, the inference being that bribes were involved.  A further report, by a television journalist who “broke” the story about the London relay scam, has officials under Kalmadi’s direction being amazed by media interest in relatively small sums of money (in their view) going missing when much bigger sums were involved elsewhere in the organisation.

Several other possible embarrassments lie in wait.  They include five contracts awarded to Events Knowledge Services (EKS), privatised off from the International Olympic Committee and run by Craig McClatchey, former Secretary General of the Australian Olympic Committee.  EKS was brought in late in the piece when it seemed things were so bad that Delhi might even lose the Games.  The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report suggests that three of the contracts were awarded by direct nomination rather than by tender, with the other two won under terms of reference biased towards EKS.  Those done by direct nomination were said to be by Kalmadi under the influence of the Commonwealth Games Federation with which EKS has been closely associated. (more…)

Quiet revolution against corruption in India June 1, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Guest author: Vidya Sharma, Melbourne

This article was first posted in East Asia Forum on 27 May 2011.

A plethora of commentary has recently appeared in the Western media about the extent of corruption plaguing India. Typical of such work was a piece, ‘India hobbled by heavy weight of corruption’ by ex-foreign minister Jaswant Singh and a senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.

Singh failed to mention that last year, Outlook magazine found the BJP-led Karnataka state government to be the most corrupt in India, but he is broadly correct. Economic deregulation has made corruption all pervasive in India. Perhaps the worst example of alleged corruption is what has come to be known as the 2G spectrum scam: the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found that ex-Communications and Information Technology Minister Andimuthu Raja may have undersold 2G spectrum frequencies by as much as US$39 billion.

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The games go on May 2, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

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. (more…)

India’s image problem: organisation and transparency February 27, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must wonder what he has done to deserve the current concatenation of circumstances putting his government and country in such a poor light for overseas observers mesmerised by the “new India” but unused to its complexities. Having over the past few months been further and energetically courted by Sarkozy, Cameron, Obama and a string of other world leaders (but not Australia, at a time when it counts), within just a few weeks organisational glitches, old and new, have combined to undermine confidence in India’s ability “to do things”, at least in the way that the outsiders might expect.

The Commonwealth Games fiasco will just not go away.  While CWG boss Suresh Kalmadi has now been largely isolated politically, he has still not been charged with any formal offences, unlike his two main operatives. They have already appeared in court accused of graft in the letting of a timekeeping contract to a Swiss company.  As the revelations from this become public, the picture will likely become ugly, because there are inevitable political and civil administration links with a wide range of companies that gained contracts under profitable conditions.  Many such links have already been revealed by journalists -they remain to be proven in court, of course, but the image of the “great” Games is taking a drubbing.

There were, for example, a myriad of Kalmadi/CWG jokes.  One of the best was an anagram of Suresh Kalmadi: “Sir, u made lakhs”!

The concern all along was that the murky side of official contracting undertaken with public money might become too revealed via the CWG investigations, but the government was under such pressure on the matter from NGOs, opposition figures like Arun Jaitley and international agencies that it could not ignore the calls for investigation.  There will be nervous moments for a good many officials and others as the court cases line up and tell their stories.

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Corruption in India: bad or worse? December 1, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Gordon, Sandy, India , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

Corruption in India is, of course, nothing new.  But the recent accusations appear to put the country into the category of one of the worst African ‘cleptocracies’.  They have also paralysed the Indian parliament and gravely damaged the reputation of the hitherto successful Congress-led government of Manmohan Singh.

The following account of some recent cases gives a sense of the scale and cost of corruption in India.

Social audit of NREGA in Rajasthan, The Hindu, 17 August 2009

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The CWG after-party October 20, 2010

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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.

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India’s Games and its national reputation October 1, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Guest Author:  Mahendra Ved, New Delhi

This article first appeared on the East Asia Forum on 30 September 2010.

India’s national reputation was on the precipice last week, earning the odium for its delayed and botched up preparations for the XIX Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, due to commence on October 3. The crisis is ironic in that there was no political or economic emergency, nor a natural disaster, nor a military threat. At stake is the organisation of a major sports event with which prestige, credibility and profits are attached.

Things began to look up from September 23, with exactly ten days to go. The prolonged monsoon made way for the first dry day, allowing for an eleventh-hour rush as officials and players began to arrive. While the stadiums and other sports facilities were ready on time, things went wrong in completing the interior facilities at the Commonwealth Games Village. Many officials of the advance teams complained of unclean rooms and toilets, seepage and flooded walkways.

The collapse of a bridge to the main venue, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, and part of a false ceiling at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium caused alarm and foreign officials threatened to pull out if the facilities were not in proper shape on time.

By the end of the week, things were falling into place. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the decision of athletes as to whether they should participate was ‘personal,’ and the Chef de Mission accepted when he reported an all-well back home and gave the same in writing to the Games’ organisers.

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Last hour games September 27, 2010

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Brian Stoddart

In an almost perfectly scripted but horrible denouement the Delhi Commonwealth Games have now been hit by a controversy over the state of the athletes’ village, the collapse of a footbridge at the main stadium, and an outbreak of dengue fever. The combination has seen some individual athletes decide to miss the event, and some entire countries are still considering their options. At one point prominent teams from Commonwealth members like Scotland and New Zealand seemed poised not to attend. However, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stepped in to seemingly exercise authority, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit turned up personally to supervise the village clean up and Suresh Kalmadi, everybody’s favourite bad guy as Chair of the Organising Committee, has assumed responsibility for all the problems.

The Games will proceed but almost certainly with problems and some of them may be serious. The accommodation issue has been especially damaging because it has somehow captured the deep-seated cultural divisions that lurk just underneath the Games veneer. When officials from New Zealand and elsewhere pre-inspected the site before the arrival of their athletes, they immediately went public with how “filthy” it all was and declared their people could not live there.  The kneejerk OC response was that standards differed between India and those countries and that most arrivals would find the accommodation acceptable. That was both right, and wrong – the former as a statement of the obvious, the latter as a clear evasion of a problem that should have been prevented.

CWG Federation chair Mike Fennell has said the Games will proceed, but that India has suffered a huge blow to its reputation given all the problems that have emerged. That was more sensitive than Australian Olympic boss John Coates’ astonishing declaration that the Games should never have been awarded to Delhi, and that the city still had the Games only because the CWGF’s understaffing and underfunding prevented it from exercising full control. Had it been the Olympics, he said, Delhi would have forfeited the right to stage the Games long ago.

Unfortunately, the Coates’ comment, in line with his normal arguments in which money always seems to provide the starting point, reveals the real thinking that exists inside a lot of international sports circles and also Australian ones about India and what might be called the “non-regular” Commonwealth members – a neo-colonialist assumption that places like India cannot organise anything. It is not that long ago, for example, that Greg Chappell’s stormy tenure as India’s cricket coach failed essentially on the grounds of an intercultural breakdown.  The Chappell view was similar to that now pronounced by Coates – India thinks and acts differently from us and that, by definition, is not acceptable. (more…)

The Commonwealth Games and New Delhi’s image management problem August 17, 2010

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Brian Stoddart

It must now be reckoned that New Delhi (in both its city and seat of national government senses) has a major task in resurrecting the organisational reputation of the Commonwealth Games (CWG).  The sports events themselves will go well enough, despite construction delays and problems, because they always do: athletes seem to rise above all sorts of adversity to create memorable moments.  On the wider front, however, each day brings greater revelations that cast the Organising Committee (OC) and India as a whole in poor light.

The latest state of play is this.  Following an audit conducted back in January-February this year, the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) has now declared that at least 60 CWG-related projects are under scrutiny.  The Enforcement Directorate within the Ministry of Revenue has raised similar concerns, and both of those follow earlier reports of interest by the Central Vigilance Commission.  The Indian media smell corruption, and the hunt is on.

This follows very heated debate within the Lok Sabha where the Congress turned in on itself under the pressure of public criticism about the handling of the Games.  Suresh Kalmadi, the head of the OC and a Pune Congress representative was silent during the debate but it emerges that he had sent a letter to MPs declaring his innocence in whatever was happening.  Two second line OC members have been dumped as apparent sacrifices and one, T.S. Darbari, has gone public claiming he is, indeed, simply a scapegoat.  V.K. Verma, the Director-General, has responded by heaping all problems at the doors of the two departed.

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