April 17: Delhi loses, but “victory” for Mani.
No, it’s not a puzzle — just that one man thinks the sports minister is to blame for India’s failed bid to host the 2014 Asian Games.
“This is a victory for Mani Shankar Aiyar,” Indian Olympic Association (IOA) chief Suresh Kalmadi said today after South Korea’s Incheon edged Delhi out in the “very close” vote in Kuwait.
The allusion was to the minister’s comment at an industry meet last week where he said hosting big games, whether in Delhi or Melbourne, makes no difference to the “state of those living in the colonies opposite the stadium”.
Aiyar was reported to have opposed India’s bid when the matter came up before the Union cabinet. The government, however, gave the green light five days ago, after which an IOA delegation flew to Kuwait for the vote by the 45-member countries of the Olympic Council of Asia.
But South Korea’s Incheon beat Delhi in the ballot.
“It was very close. They both had weak points and strong points. From the marketing view point, Korea had the edge,” OCA chief Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahd al-Sabah said after a general assembly meeting.
“There is no loser and no winner tonight. The only winner is the Asian Olympic movement and the growth of the Asian games.”
In Delhi, Aiyar said he wasn’t surprised by the verdict. “Well, I am disappointed but hardly surprised,” he told a TV channel.
“I was impressed with the persistence with which the Koreans were pushing for Incheon.”
But Kalmadi insisted that “we looked a divided lot because of the sports minister’s comments which appeared in newspapers also”.
IOA secretary general Randhir Singh echoed Kalmadi. “I have no idea what went wrong,” Singh, who is also OCA secretary, said. “We have learnt a lesson — that we have to work together.”
Former hockey player and 1975 world cup gold medallist Aslam Sher Khan, who was part of the IOA delegation, was more forthcoming. “In the light of the sports minister’s disinterest in hosting the games, we looked a divided lot. That could well have been the reason,” he said.
India — which hosted the inaugural edition of the Games in 1951 and in 1982, both times in Delhi — had based its bid on behalf of “a billion people” and offered free hospitality for every athlete if the Games were awarded to Delhi, which is also staging the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
But the Koreans upped the bid. Insiders said they promised to spend $25 million on visiting athletes.
During the hectic lobbying, the IOA had also stressed that the Commonwealth Games four years before the Asiad would create adequate infrastructure. But there was no offer like the $1 million preparatory grant Delhi had promised every participating country during the Commonwealth bid.
Sources said another reason for Korea’s victory was that China changed tack at the last moment.