The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hyderabad’s drive for quality may slip on the time track
- Andhra Pradesh chief minister stresses that target on opening shall be met

With the ‘when’ being uppermost in people’s minds regarding the 32nd National Games in Hyderabad, there is a lack of understanding on the ‘how’ of the situation.

Scheduled for a December 13 start, the pace of work has not satisfied many observers. This prompted Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu and Indian Olympic Association (IOA) chief Suresh Kalmadi to stress to the Media Sunday that the target opening shall be met. This is a subjective issue, though all contractors and experts on the job do make it amply clear that facilities should be ready by the month-end.

The question does have logical bearings. The most fickle of all Indian sporting events (apart from the farce of the Indian mooted Afro Asian Games), the National Games was probably planned in absentia, of a great many sports organisers, sportspersons and associations/federations. It was also planned, likely, in absentia of common sense. Hence we have a situation where each national federation holds its own national meet and then the athletes go and again take part in a National Games which is purportedly also a national meet!

The whole exercise was planned as a show of government intent, and government might. As in any bureaucratic endeavour, schedules and protocol come down on a shower of red confetti tape.

The point in question, yet, is the quality of endeavour. Having visited the venues Saturday, this correspondent found a larger-than-life vision of the Games and the courage to think that big evident.

Andhra Pradesh is the fifth-largest state of the country and its historic capital Hyderabad the fifth largest city of the country as well. While the tag of ‘Cyberabad’ pretty much suits the city, the question is whether a Rs 350-crore investment in sport is worthwhile in a state virtually overrun by famine.

L.V. Subrahmanyam, commissioner, sports and vice-chairman and managing director of the Sports Authority of AP (SAAP) says it was an issue as ticklish to the bureaucracy and the politicians. “Our chief minister made it clear that this is an issue of pride and of commitment. He assured us that we do have the capability of taking good care of the problems of the state. He gave the go ahead.” It was a vision issue and bureaucrats agree that Naidu can see beyond the average spectrum.

Sounds nice. It sounds better when one takes a tour of the facilities. The Games will be held across/via seven spanking new stadiums/facilities. The main stadium is in Gachibwoli, an hour’s drive from the city centre. Adjacent are the swimming pool (plus warm-up and diving pools) and an air conditioned multidiscipline indoor stadium. Not far from this is the Games Village. The cycling velodrome, in the Osmania University campus, is a 45-minute drive from Gachibowli.

There is another indoor stadium in Saroornagar, near the city, with only the tennis stadium being inside the city, beside the Lal Bahadur Stadium where, so far, the soccer events have been scheduled.

What sends out pleasant greetings is the pride taken in procuring the best of facility. Consider the Gachibowli indoor stadium, for example. The indoor complex was built in consultation with STUP Consultants Ltd and looks modern and chic. However, the main feature of the stadium will be its wooden flooring. The wood is hardwood maple (maximum 5 per cent moisture content), all imported from the US. Even the technology for the laying of the floor is as per DIN (German) specifications and certified by the FIBA (international basketball association).

What is special about this' For one, the base has shock absorbing microsystems (of thermo rubber) attached, the floor nailing is done with special equipment that drives special nails (that too from the US) at 45 degrees. Ankur Bagley, of Harrison Industries, agents for Prestige Sports Systems of the US (those who have developed this technology) said there will also be standardised breathing gaps to allow for expansion of the seasoned wood. The entire system is called a ‘bi-power sleeper’.

The flooring itself, expected to be completed by November 25 or month-end latest, will cost Rs 65 lakh. S. Ram Chander of STUP said the main problem was the allowing of electricity and water etc connections early. “That leads to misuse, so we have to wait for that. When the flooring is over, I take over again for the air conditioning.”

The main stadium is a 30,000-capacity facility with a ten-lane track (Germany’s BSW). The football ground within, though will possibly not be used for that because not only is its area at the ‘small’ range of Fifa regulations, the grass has refused to grow. Hence it is likely that football will be back at the Lal Bahadur Stadium (the cricket pitch has to be dismantled again) while the main stadium ground will probably be left only for field events and opening and closing ceremonies.

The stadium, which can be emptied in 16 minutes (accepted standard for ‘open’ stadiums), however, lacks many of the special facilities like players’ tunnels and mixed zone facilities. The lighting is from Bajaj-Abacus (US tech transfer), providing 1200 lumens, good enough for all levels of television/photography.

The swimming pool complex has an eight lane race pool (can be extended to ten), and timing equipment will be from Omega, Switzerland. The vital filtration plant equipment are from Astral of Spain, made to Fina specifications. Ram Chander said while there was an Indian alternative available, Naidu made it clear that only proven technology shall be allowed. The touchpads and the rest should be in place by month-end, he said, but one got the feeling that this probably will be a trifle difficult to achieve.

The problem looks graver at the Games Village, though. There will be 678 apartments (for upto 9,000 athletes and officials), said Subrahmanyam. A local company was given fallow or Rs 29 lakh per acre. The deal was that after the Games the apartments will be sold off, leaving the SAAP Rs 4.5 crore worth of property. Looked like a win-win situation, except that these facilities are yet to be completed. A month remains, and problems will arise, though Subrahmanyam refuted this.

More interesting is the way the administration is being handled. The government machinery has been geared to provide speed and impetus. And despite the government having its own PR cell, a private company, Horizons, a division of Mudra Communications, has been appointed to spread the message, so to say.

There is a flip side, though. IAS officers head the several committees and junior government officials the lesser sub-committees. Bureaucrats are trained to be aloof, and they seem to be practising that well. They wear rather impressive titles, and as impressive personalities. Something tells you that in a state that is run by a CEO instead of a chief minister, the protocol for these officials haven’t really changed much. You give in your card and wait, and wait.

Not the best way to push tons of headaches away in a month.

However, the positive aspects surely outweigh the stalling buffers. Whenever the Games are held, they will certainly be a degree of quality attached to it.

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