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Wed 3Sep2014

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Who gains from the Games?

Viewers of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa see only the multimillion-dollar stadiums constructed, not the poor who were displaced by them in Cape Town. Similarly, the Rs 20,000-crore Commonwealth Games jamboree will benefit only the posh heart of New Delhi, not its poorest citizens who are being evicted, says a new report from the Housing and Land Rights Network

The 2010 FIFA World Cup is having a huge impact on people’s lives across the whole of Africa. It is being claimed by some that, finally, Africa is showing another face to the world. Soccer organisers and South African government officials say the World Cup will bring economic opportunities now and later for all Africans, by bringing attention to the continent’s infrastructure improvements, tourism potential, and vibrant mobile phone industry.

But sociologists and economists are worried about the potential social impact on the ordinary citizen of South Africa. Take Cape Town, one of the host cities. A new stadium costing over US$ 600 million was built there, but, at the same time, countless homeless people and hundreds of informal traders were moved to a camp outside the city centre.

Does the World Cup in South Africa hold any lessons for India’s capital New Delhi, currently busy preparing to host another international sporting event -- the 2010 Commonwealth Games? There are striking similarities here: huge stadiums and underground train stations are being constructed, roads widened, flyovers erected, parking lots established, and buildings renovated ahead of the October 3-14 event. All this is happening in the posh heart of New Delhi.

Social activists say government efforts to portray the city as a global sporting hub come at the expense of thousands of poor urban Indians who have been evicted, displaced or exploited as a result of the forthcoming Games. “When MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi) ordered the demolition of shelters for the homeless, it was the cruellest thing a government could do to its citizens,” former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A P Shah said speaking at the release of a report prepared by the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) -- an arm of Habitat International Coalition -- titled ‘The 2010 Commonwealth Games: Whose Wealth? Whose Commons?’.

The report notes that demolition of slum clusters and informal colonies in the city has led to the eviction of 100,000 families from their homes -- a clear violation of Article 21 of the Constitution. Moreover, labourers migrating to the city from the countryside are made to work in inhuman conditions. The findings of the high-powered committee formed by the Delhi High Court vindicated these claims and the labour department was ordered to get its act together and enforce labour laws at numerous construction sites all over the city.

The report reveals how most of the laws of the land were bypassed to enable the hysterical development activity being carried out in the city for the 12-day mega event. Even the decision to bid was approved by Cabinet ex-post facto, in September 2003. And the deal was sealed after Indian officials made a last-minute offer of US$ 7.2 million to train athletes of all countries in the Commonwealth. Also on offer was a travel grant of US$ 10.5 million, a free trip to the Taj Mahal, and luxury accommodation for the ‘CGF family’.

The Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games will be the largest global sports event ever to be hosted in India. Around 10,000 athletes from 71 nations and territories will compete in 17 disciplines over 12 days. India is keen to match its image as a modernising, emerging economic giant just as neighbouring China did when it hosted the 2008 Olympics.

Authorities say the benefits to the burgeoning metropolis of 14 million people include vast infrastructure development, creation of jobs, increased tourism revenues, and a city that will be “clean, beautiful, vibrant and world-class”. “There is no doubt that Delhi has become a world-class city, but only for world-class citizens -- the who’s who of the realty business,” Dunu Roy, an urban planning expert, says.

For many of the slum-dwellers who were evicted as part of the city’s makeover, there is nothing ‘world-class’ about the way they are living now. Many have been resettled in shanty towns like Bawana, on the outskirts of Delhi, far from their original homes, where there are few job opportunities and little infrastructure and services such as schools and clinics.

Non-governmental organisations working with the homeless say many of those evicted have not been resettled or compensated, and have been forced to rent rooms in already overcrowded slums. Or, they continue to live under the flyovers that replaced their homes. There are reports that countless street vendors, rickshaw-pullers, small shopkeepers and food stall owners -- as well as thousands of beggars -- have lost their livelihoods as part of the revamp.

Critics are also questioning the millions of dollars being spent on the event, and whether the authorities should reassess their priorities in a country like India where 46% of children under 5 are malnourished. The HLRN says the US$ 422 million budgeted cost for hosting the Games has been massively overshot, estimating it could be at least five times greater.

It predicts that India’s expenses may result in severe financial repercussions, and alleges that vital funds allocated for poor, marginalised communities have been diverted to fund the event. “The colossal expenditure on the Games brings to light the priorities of the Indian government,” says the report. “Is it ethically justifiable for a nation like India, with 450 million people living below the poverty line and some of the worst social indicators in the world, to host such an expensive event?”

Harsh Mander, former bureaucrat and activist, has filed a public interest petition in the Delhi High Court over the arrest of elderly and sick people on charges of begging. “It’s like a war against the poor,” human rights lawyer Colin Gonsalves said. “I would like sportsmen from the western world and people coming for the Commonwealth Games to write letters of protest to our prime minister, to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and to the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and say: ‘Please stop this. We don’t want you to clean up Delhi for us. We don’t mind if people beg,’ ” he told a national daily.

The HLRN report concludes that the entire process leading up to the Games has been characterised by secrecy, lack of government accountability, and unconstitutional activities. “Preparations for the Games have already resulted in an irreversible alteration in the social, spatial, economic and environmental dimensions of the city of Delhi. Much of this has taken place in contravention of democratic governance and the planning process,” it says.

“Holding the 10-day, Rs 20,000-crore jamboree reflects a misplaced sense of pride and distortion of national priorities. If not on development of a chronically poor nation, the money could have been well spent on bringing basic sports to every mohalla and panchayat,” former Union Minister for Panchayati Raj and Sports Mani Shankar Aiyar says in an article.

Aiyar asks: “Is it fair that thousands of the poorest families entering the national capital -- migrant workers fleeing desperate poverty in the rural hinterland -- should suffer their shanty town on the right bank of the Yamuna being destroyed overnight in the environmental interests of protecting the unimpeded flow of the sewer we call Delhi’s principal river while promoting the Akshardham temple and now the Commonwealth Games Village on the left bank of the same river, ironically almost exactly opposite the demolished slum of Yamuna Pushta? In Gandhi’s India, does anything go in the name of God and Mammon?”

The former Union minister points out how the Commonwealth Games in Manchester were leveraged to rejuvenate the utterly rundown eastern section of the city where every family had experienced unemployment for at least a generation, some for two or three. “Now, Walmart has its largest global store, employing 18,000 boys and girls, and Microsoft its European headquarters in East Manchester thanks to the fillip given by the Games.”

The Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 kick-started a rejuvenation in the poorer east of the city and was a demonstration of what could be achieved in economic terms around sport. An assessment by the Manchester city council of the direct, long-term effects of the Commonwealth Games highlights the creation of 6,300 full-time jobs, £ 600 million investments and a £ 22 million increase in turnover experienced by local businesses.

Similarly, the 2012 Olympic Games are designed for the “spectacular development” of the 10 most underdeveloped counties of the Lea Valley on the far fringes of London.

Similar results are expected there, with the Olympic Delivery Authority and London Organising Committee expected to allocate over £ 6 billion of work as part of business opportunities covering contractors and supply chains in the run-up to the Olympics.

When Manchester continues to draw on the economic benefits of large sporting events, why then was the spectacular development of Bawana on the poverty-ridden edges of the capital not picked up, as originally proposed, for our Commonwealth Games, asks Aiyar.

He sees just one reason for what is happening in Delhi: “False prestige, a belief that we can earn standing in the international community by financing a 10-day sports circus while retaining the position we have held on the UN Human Development Index for the last 15 years -- position No 134 (almost the same as we would have held in medal tallies if the number of Commonwealth countries was 134).”

But China not only hosted the Olympics, it also picked up the highest number of medals. That’s because the sports authorities there ensure that every Chinese child plays sports and games, thereby widening the net to catch the top-rung talent. India has done next to nothing to bring its children into the sports net.

Aiyar claims as minister of sports he tried to do something about this but found himself in a minority of one. “The Planning Commission, which was not even squinting at the (CWG) organising committee’s demand for Rs 6,000 crore for a 10-day tamasha, found itself unable to agree to the same sum being spent over 10 years on bringing basic sports facilities to every panchayat and every mohalla of this viciously poor nation.”

On this front, Africa clearly scores over India. Football in Africa is something that is constantly evolving; over the last 20 years or so, a talented African has emerged every single year. Recently, it has been the likes of Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and Emmanuel Adebayor.

“We are the heroes to the next generation and all we want to do is give them something to dream about. There are a lot of vulnerable children and orphans in Africa and we want them to know that football gave us our chance; that we were not born in rich areas either. The kids have to believe they have a chance. Football offers them that. It is important that African people know football is a way of getting a better life,” Adebayor, former African Player of the Year, writes on the BBC website.

In India, as Aiyar foresees, the only good that will come out of the Commonwealth Games will be a decision to never again bid for such an event until every Indian child gets a minimum to eat and is assured a basic education and a playground with trained coaches to discover the sportsperson in himself/herself.

Infochange News & Features, June 2010