Sunday, December 18, 2011

The albatross called big-games hosting -- Part I

We will have a series of intermittent posts on areas of personal interest rather than with any strategic scope, a foray into sports, identity and consciousness issues.

Over the last thirty years, India has successfully hosted/co-hosted many big-game events including the 1982 Asian Games, the Cricket World Cup (1987, 1996, 2011), the Hockey World Cup (1982, 2010), the 2003 Afro-Asian Games (now defunct), and the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Besides, India has made unsuccessful bids to host the 2006 and the 2014 Asian Games, and a pre-bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics which melted away in the lead-up to the conduct of the Commonwealth Games. With the passage of time on these two events, and the hoopla of corruption, tardiness, cost overruns, etc., dying an almost natural death witnessed by the lack of attention to this matter from mainstream media, it becomes pertinent to analyze the pros and cons of big-games hosting minus the emotional and jingoistic cries of hosting a big event. Specifically, if mistakes have been made in the conduct of the Commonwealth Games 2010, it would be worthwhile analyzing rationally the lessons to be learned so that such mistakes never happen again, hopefully.

Such a rational assessment typically boils down to the following questions:
1) Did we gain significantly with the successful conduct of Delhi 2010? If so, how much monetarily or on what scales of judgment?
2) Or, did we lose considerably? If so, how much precisely or on what scales?
While simple, the above questions lack a clear-cut answer and one is forced to resort to guesstimates, fuse information from multiple sources to develop a big picture, and more importantly, draw parallels from other big-games events over the last twenty-to-thirty years. Such insights are even more critical as the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) seems hell-bent on pursuing a bid for the Summer Olympics at some stage and it is a case of when, and not if, notwithstanding the negative limelite surrounding the conduct of the Commonwealth Games.

Why is there a need to host big-games?: The Hazards Center Report on big-games hosting (Linky) cites the following main reasons:
1) Economically speaking, big-games are believed to generate and redistribute billions of dollars worldwide. It is hoped that years before the event, millions would be pumped into the economy for new infrastructure such as sports facilities (world-class stadia and Games village), transportation (bridges, railways, airports, flyovers), telecommunications, and across the whole ecosystem of a part of a city that especially needs vital sprucing up as a part of the growth process (e.g., South Delhi in the 1982 Asian Games, certain suburbs of Sydney and Manchester with the 2000 Olympic Games and 2002 Commonwealth Games, respectively). The events are usually associated with urban renewal programs that precede the event and help upgrade the image of the host city through exclusive development of certain select parts.
2) All this pumping of cash into a small geographical footprint creates a huge number of jobs, even if temporarily, thereby freeing the politicians of electoral and democratic responsibilities in return for acts of Games populism. These jobs could range from restaurant businesses, hotels and accommodation services, construction businesses, hospitality, organizational and legal services, etc., all leading to a growth of the city's tax base.
3) While ticket sales and current tourism potential are no match for the cost accrued in conducting the Games, there is a hope that thousands of visitors including athletes, officials, journalists, television staff, and sport fans are expected, of whom some might be expected to extend their stay well beyond the duration of the event, and spend well above the average level of per-capita consumption. But the bigger picture is that if the city gives a good account of its hosting capacity and hospitality, businesses and tourists will be attracted in the future not to mention positive credential to host many other events which in turn leads to a circle of economic activity.
4) In addition massive advertising revenues are expected to be churned out from companies desiring to get their products or services out to a large consumer audience world-wide. The events give the city a wide international exposure it could usually only dream about. Even while the Commonwealth games only involve 70 of the world’s 200 nations, these 70 nations comprise 30% of the world’s population. The Cricket World Cup covers an ever lesser area, but provides immense opportunities for product placement among a rabid fan-following.
5) Needless to say, soft power and image rebuilding flows from the barrel of the propaganda machinery. Much of big-games hosting in the late 20-th century has been one of showcasing the host city's potentials, civic pride for the citizenry and beyond, harking back on the legacies that define the current and a lead-up to the future trajectories. Another side consequence is the home-turf advantage for sportsmen and women which has a positive correlation with better performances on the field, thus furthering the propaganda machinery.

Downsides to hosting the Games (aka) The real picture: Modulo all the human rights violations of people evicted from Games villages and environmental concerns of uber-green-niks on the polluting aspects of big-games and even growth for that matter, the essential downside boils down to financial aspects. A detailed economic cost-benefit analysis is widely controversial with multiple studies conducted in the past on these matters. While the bidders for big-games continue to insist on real as well as perceived benefits and display a huge exhibit list to back up their claims, the economists take a dim view of these presentations. The broad consensus from the economical angle summarized by the following report (Linky) is that:

In the short term, critics say, the CWG was a financial disaster. According to the Hazards Centre (Linky), every such event is. Says its report: "The Hazards Centre had examined the performance of the Olympics and found that, beginning from Mexico in 1968, virtually every city that had hosted such an event had plunged into debt for the next 25-30 years. The Games never pay for themselves; it is public money that falls into the hands of private businessmen." Developers, real estate agents, construction companies, and people at the high end of the tourism, advertising, marketing, and hospitality industries rake in profits, adds the report."

A more careful study of this question is left to the Hazards Centre report from which these two pictures have been sussed out.

All that said, India presents an exception to every rule in the bucket by its very existence, sustenance and evolution. Broad-brushing studies done across the world and marrying them to the Indian context make no sense because of this one reason. So we will have to take a short break and come back "soon" to revisit: The tragedy of big-games hosting (aka) The Indian experience -- Part II

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At February 15, 2012 at 4:36 AM , Anonymous Hosting forum said...

I feel very strong about it and would like to read more. If you can, as you find out more in depth knowledge, would you mind posting more posts similar to this one with more information.

At February 15, 2012 at 8:54 AM , Blogger Pax-Indica said...

I have a half-baked writeup that has nt been touched in over a month due to many other deadlines. Will get to it sometime before this or the next week. Thanks for following the blog.


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