Thursday, December 1, 2011

Real Politic, Sri Lanka and Commonwealth games.

For two consecutive days in October 2010, News from India grabbed the front page space in Singapore newspaper, Strait Times. This by itself was rather unusual, since any news about India is usually found somewhere in the deep interior of this news paper, India being very low on newsworthiness of Singapore readers. On top of that, the news items included big photographs showing uncleaned toilets and betel juice stained bath rooms from Athlete’s village in New Delhi. Even to an uninformed Indian like me, presently staying in Singapore, the message was clear and loud. New Delhi games were doomed.
Bad news kept on coming, as number of days to opening ceremony reduced to a number that could be counted by fingers of just one hand. First , a pedestrian bridge collapsed at the games venue. Then false roofing in some corner of some stadium gave way, when an electrician tried to walk on it. Finally a snake was caught in the games village. Some one from media decided that it was a King cobra. Many athletes started giving second thought about their trip to New Delhi. Some actually canceled the trip. Even Indian media were super active in self bashing. It appeared that something was seriously wrong with the preparation for the games.
As we came to penultimate day, suddenly all problems and difficulties started to dissolve as if by magic. The athletes from Australia, New zealand and England changed their tune and said the facilities were actually very good. The inauguration ceremony was superb. And the games got on.

Even during the games, very innovative complaints kept coming and disappearing. Swimming pool water not fit for humans, buses running slow and security is too tight. Same people had expressed doubts earlier regarding safety of the athletes as the security was lax..
The final closing ceremony was again a grand and fitting occasion to declare that the games are finally over. As I watched the closing ceremony live on TV,(surprisingly, Singapore TV showed both opening and closing ceremonies live), I saw a person sitting in VIP enclave, whose photograph I have seen many times in the papers. He was the present President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa. What the heck, this guy is doing here? I wondered. He never made any speech. Just sat there. Later, I found out the he was invited as a special guest by the organizing committee and Government of India. I then became very curious. There was something going on here.
The present Government of India is supported by DMK, a Tamil party. There are 67 million Tamil people living in India and many more in south east Asia. No one has complained about Mahindra Rajapaksa being present at the Delhi games. Only the British Tamil Forum spokesperson, Suren Surendiran, said in a dissenting voice, “It is a shame. The Commonwealth is mainly composed of developing countries and needs to apply international law and humane standards. Leaders say one thing and deliver something else” However it was clear that the Tamil people of the world had no objection to Mr. Rajapaksa’s presence at the games.
A weird explanation was given by some commentators about his presence. They thought that it was a coup of sorts. India has for long been unhappy with its tiny neighbours’ alliance with China and has been hard put to foster a greater dependency on India instead. The Sri Lankan alliance with China has seen multi-million dollar projects being financed and awarded to Chinese contractors. Soon after Rajapaksa was appointed President in 2005, the Chinese were awarded the Hambantota Port project, the first Phase of which is due to be inaugurated on November 19th, soon after President Rajapaksa takes his oaths beginning his second term as President. A number of other projects were also awarded to the Chinese, including the building of highways around the country. I feel that this whole argument is very absurd.
If India is indeed unhappy as these commentators feel, she would take some remedial measures. Surely inviting the president for a closing function is not going to win him over. This is obviously not the reason for this special invitation. There was something more to it.
During the games, South African swimmer Roalnd Schoeman had found himself in hot water when he made a comment about the antics of some spectators at the pool. He had said that ”people are going on like monkeys”.Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell immediately labelled the comments unacceptable, and Schoeman apologised if he offended anyone. He said that “There has been a terrible mistake. I was really disappointed by the way the Australian media blew things up. If I knew it was a racial slur, I wouldn’t have used the word (monkey),” “In South Africa, we use it all the time when people misbehave. And I only meant one individual. For the first time in my life I had someone scream out as we were going to start the 50m freestyle,” he said. Actually he had earlier tweeted that “The spectators have been fantastic here.”
Roalnd Schoeman’s comment really led me to the role of Australian media. Why were they trying to prove even before the games started that the New Delhi games have flopped. I recollected then, that right from beginning, the entire Australian and English media onslaught was trying to prove that New Delhi was incapable of hosting common wealth games. They were incompetent and poorly equipped to do this task. I checked the photographs of stained bathrooms and toilets again. All media photographs and videos showed only one building(Building no. 12), which was surely not completed, when the photos were taken. Why only this building was shown and not other buildings which were ready? Obviously there were some vested interests which were trying to prove that the games are non starters and even with a fantastic start, these would eventually turn in complete disaster just because some swimmer made some comment somewhere. Or some bus ran slow.
Mr Barton, a former prominent Brisbane TV anchorman from Australia was covering the Games along with 2000 other broadcasters from around the world. He has come up with some comments which can be treated as hilarious at the best. He says that “there was no food for media and only two hot drink dispensers for tea and coffee in the International Broadcast Centre. Even though The Indian Government has spent billions trying to make it work” Even after the games were completed successfully, he had these comments to offer. “Delhi has been riven with critical problems that have caused India international embarrassment — shoddy workmanship, poor organisation, transport chaos, a host broadcast that hangs by a thread (we are struggling to stabilise power at each venue) — and a volunteer program that has seen thousands go without uniforms and proper food,”
When I checked some other comments made by Mr. Barton, the whole game plan of Australian media was clear like a book. It appears that for Common wealth games to be held in 2018, there are two main serious bidders. Gold coast county in Australia and Sri lanka. The Australian media onslaught right from beginning, was trying to prove that no developing nation, even if it has got money, can do it. Only developed nations have the capability and the capacity to host the games. Since New Delhi Games are anyway complete failure, how could possibly Sri Lanka do it? This is what Mr. Barton had to say to about Sri Lanka’s capability to host the games. He believes that Sri Lanka’s 2018 Games bid was just a ‘public relations exercise to drive tourism numbers’.”… the idea that Hambantota — hours away from the capital Colombo over a broken road — could possibly stage the Commonwealth Games is a fantasy,”he futher said that “Colombo, (which has) a population of 2.5 million and established venues, would struggle to put on the Games. I produced sports in Sri Lanka for three years. They are not ready.”
It becomes as clear as sunlight, that the entire bad publicity given to the New Delhi games was clearly the brain child of Australian media to help Gold Coast county to win 2018 games. The international mainstream media did join them initially but later changed their point of view as games became big success. The Indians must have been aware of this game plan to discredit India and effectively snatch the 2018 games from Sri lanka. You can see now see why Mr. Mahendra Rajapaksa was invited for the closing ceremony. It was a clear indication of India’s support to Sri Lanka’s bidding for the 2018 games.
I am not trying to justify some of the shoddy things that were seen or done before the games started. The organizers did lot of good work also. But this is real politic at it’s worst.
However I feel sorry for the Indian media. They fell into the trap and started bashing the facilities and the organizers without any real verification of the facts. In the end, India got a bad name and Indian media showed that they are very naive in handling International affairs, even when the stage was India itself.
17th October 2010

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