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Commonwealth games: Not bread and circuses, just homelessness and debt

October 5, 2010

The Commonwealth Games, up until this point, have been a disaster for India’s poor, both economically and socially. My earlier post on this blog referred to the 47 construction workers who have died because of the Games but the disastrous impact isn’t just limited to those deaths.

The Games have displaced at least 300,000 people from their homes, with only one third of those being resettled. According to the website GamesMonitor, the environment has also been damaged. “Environmental impact assessment norms have been violated. Hundreds of trees have been felled. Rain water drains have been covered. The Games Village has been built on the flood plains of the River Yamuna causing a drop in the ground water table in Delhi. The river bed is a seismically active area. There has been a significant increase in cases of asthma and allergies directly as a result of the dust from the construction work. Despite all this government officials have launched an “ecological code” claiming that these will be a “Green Games.”

The Commonwealth Games have also been linked to an outbreak of dengue fever. India’s health minister said “Dengue and water is strongly related. Delhi is already dug up because of the Games and it is also raining heavily. Since water remains accumulated in many places, it becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which are contributing to diseases”. Ironically, dengue fever is one of the reasons that athletes pulled out from going to the games in the first place

Independent experts also say the true cost of the games will be $6.9 billion, which is 100 times the original projected price for the games

The impact of this figure has been felt by the citizens of New Delhi, according to Games Monitor. “In April 2010 the Delhi finance minister said; “We are broke. They have no money left to pay for the third phase of the Delhi Metro. In the last six months they have put up bus fares and water tariff, withdrawn subsidy on LPG cylinders and increased VAT on a number of items. The city budget for 2010-11 increased several direct and indirect taxes. Land prices have escalated in the Trans-Yamuna area of the city. Delhi has become a more expensive city because of the Games.”

Not only that, Indian officials are doing their best to hide locals from visitors. Two and a half metre tall blue screens have been erected around slum villages to hide the poor from view. The Independent also reported that increased security has hurt slum dwellers as well.  “Such is the level of security that people are afraid to step out beyond the blue barriers while the Games are on for fear police will query their identification cards and force them from the city or lock them up.” Anthony and Doller Peter, both of whom live in the slums told the Independent that there had been “no improvement” to their village, because of the games and in fact, it was worse. “And as for the water, since the Games’ preparations began, we have had no delivery.”

According to Games organisers, it would “build state-of-the-art sporting and city infrastructure….create a suitable environment and opportunities for the involvement of the citizens in the Games; showcase the culture and heritage of India; project Delhi as a global destination and India as an economic power; and leave behind a lasting legacy.”

Judged by this criteria, the Games are a massive failure. It is no wonder the Games aren’t not popular in India, with protests being held against them.

Despite the horrible social cost of the Games, the one consolation may have been that Indians could witness high-quality sport in person, that otherwise they never would have. But that also, too, has been denied. Watching on the first day one thing was abundantly clear, no-one was there. Australia’s netball game against Samoa had 58 people in attendance. Australian’s Tennis player Greg Jones played in front of 12 people in his first game. And it’s not too hard to find out why, the citizens of Delhi are alienated from the games is part of the explanation but the bigger reason is simply the cost.

As Dolly Peter said to the independent “We are not going to be able to see any of the Games’ events…we have no money for that.”

For instance, the absolute cheapest tickets for the athletics are 200 rupees or $4, but according to the World Bank over 800 million Indians survive on less than $2 a day and a lot survive on a just bit more than that, so the vast majority have very little to no money to spend on things such as attending sporting events, particularly events they have very little knowledge of. The Murdoch press in Australia instead of explaining this fact used the crowds to bolster Australian national pride by writing “The contrast with a Melbourne Commonwealth Games was stark, with a raft of sold-out venues full of rapturous supporters four years ago.”

It seems at the very least to make up for some of the damage that tickets for a whole range of events should be made free. Maybe that even won’t make sell out crowds but it will at least allow more involvement of the people within the Games. If it continues as is, the Games won’t even be providing any bread or circuses to Indians but rather just homelessness and massive economic debt that will take decades to pay.

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