The fall from triumph to titters is not quite the path of glory that India was hoping to tread with the Commonwealth Games. So, the one thing that the chaotic run-up to the Games has made difficult to hold on to surely is the old association of sports with national pride. The opposite of pride is, of course, the kind of disgrace that the Indian authorities are trying to turn into a sort of desperate optimism. But if the nicer way has not worked, then this shame is the only other way to learn what it actually means to find a place in the eyes of the world. The globalization of sports, like that of other forms of entertainment, demands that an event like the Games has to be done differently from, say, organizing the general elections. There is everything wrong about the Games being just the government’s baby. The mix of corruption, cluelessness, sycophancy and sloth that a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats inevitably embodies in India can never, in a real and practical sense, pull off such a complex event. It demands standards of expertise, co-ordination and accountability — in short, professionalism — that ministers, chief ministers, cabinet secretaries and their kind are bound to bring down to a level of spectacular, but nonetheless shameful, chaos. And this is true not only for a mega-event like the Games, but also for various sports at ordinary times, when players and athletes have to deal regularly with the annoying and damaging influence of politicians and bureaucrats on their sporting careers.
It is too late now to make such a radical turn, but the Games need to be rescued from, and not delivered even more ‘securely’ into, the hands of the State. When the Games Village turned out to be a bit of a disaster, then the only thing left to be done was to transfer responsibility from the Delhi Development Authority to the chief minister’s government. The chief minister has ordered last-minute salvage operations on a “war footing”, turning a sports event into a military campaign. The fact that Suresh Kalmadi, Shera’s biggest rival as mascot, used to be an air-force man makes the chief minister’s battle-cry rather more bizarre. With England, Scotland and Wales making the least friendly noises now, the history of the ‘Commonwealth’ seems to have come a full, and ironic, circle. Incredible as it may seem, this is no way for the Empire to strike back.