Ambitious but attainable: Capital plans to bid to host the Olympics

- March 11, 2021
| By : Mihir Srivastava |

The AAP government has pledged to do all that is necessary to host the Olympics in 2048. It will be a befitting way to celebrate 100 years of India’s independence Who would oppose Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia pledged to launch a bid for the 2048 Games to mark 100 years of India’s independence? […]

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, along with his former Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia. (Getty)

The AAP government has pledged to do all that is necessary to host the Olympics in 2048. It will be a befitting way to celebrate 100 years of India’s independence

Who would oppose Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia pledged to launch a bid for the 2048 Games to mark 100 years of India’s independence? But many were taken by surprise. This pledge to bid was a unilateral decision by the Delhi government that no one would dare oppose as is symbolic of the rising status of India amongst the comity of nations. 

It’s not going to be easy though, as we know from the past. This would be the third bid, the first two were unsuccessful.  Sisodia announced his grand plan in his budget speech earlier this week, and has the full support of his boss Arvind Kejriwal who called this proposal “a vision” and a big challenge as well. “We will take up whatever infrastructure and other necessities that are needed to be created for it,” he declared. 

Delhi has time, 27 years, and the process of bidding will start only after 13 years, so in the meantime, Delhi can create all enabling infrastructure so when it comes to bidding Delhi will come across as the most attractive destination. 

There’s not much reaction from the sporting fraternity or the central government. Siddhartha Upadhyay, a member of the Governing Council of Sports Authority of India, also co-chairperson–Sports of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, explains the scenario eloquently. “210 countries participate in the Olympics, more than some 190 odd countries recognized by the UN. It doesn’t get bigger than this,” he explains and adds, “the practice is that the city pitches in the open bidding for the event and not the government of the country. Delhi is a UT, and an event of this magnitude has to have the support of the federal government. The AAP government has not taken the Government of India into confidence before making this declaration,” he points out. 

Siddharth Upadhyay with budding sportspersons

And so without saying so, questions the seriousness of the pledge, and points out that a similar assertion was made for Mumbai last year. Mumbai is to host in 2023 the coveted session of the International Olympic Committee or popularly known as IOC—a not-for-profit independent international organization, is the supreme authority of the Olympic movement with its headquarter in Lausanne, Switzerland. It’s also pertinent to point out that Nita Ambani, wife of Mukesh Ambani, is the member of IOC and has been instrumental in guiding Indian Olympic Association. The executive board of IOC has recommended Mumbai after the evaluators were impressed by the Jio World Centre—the proposed venue for the event in 2023. 

There are two big challenges. The sporting acumen of India has failed so far to make a dent in the Games, and the hosting countries are invariably a sporting superpower and usually amongst the top five nations in the medal tally. The second challenge is the infrastructure—sports, civic, pollution, tourism..the list is long. The past record has been uneven, some cities were true to the challenge while others couldn’t effectively deal with the dent in the resources, remaining under debt for years as an aftermath of hosting the world’s biggest sporting event. 

The time allotted to prepare to host the Games is 11 years, Delhi, if it sticks to the pledge, has 27 years. The memory of the Commonwealth Games—2010–the falling bridges, allegations of corruption, poorly constructed Games village on the Yamuna river bed, are all fresh in the memory—doesn’t inspire confidence. The times have changed and it’s advisable to think big and be optimistic. However it’s never going to be easy—Chicago was an unsuccessful finalist for the bid for 2016 Olympics though the former US president, Barack Obama, was lobbying for it and the campaign was reported to have cost $150 million. The bidding process can easily cost in excess of $200 million.

Delhi can learn from the experiences of others. London paid $14.6 billion for hosting the Olympics in 2012.  This was much less compared to what Beijing and Athens shelled out in 2008 and 2004, respectively. Beijing spent $42 billion, and this doesn’t include expenditure incurred to manipulate the weather to avoid rain during the opening ceremony. The downpour was successfully averted by firing a barrage of 1,110 rockets into the sky. 

Also, Beijing was able to control pollution during the two-week event to improve the air quality. They employed various aerosol extinction methods, one of them was a Dual-wavelength Polarized Lidar. It worked, many studies done later found effectiveness in air pollution control measures with the aerosol extinction coefficient decreased to about 42.3% compared to a year before under almost the same meteorological conditions. 

To be able to do that they controlled pollution creating activities not just in Beijing, but also in the neighboring areas as well, while we here in Delhi are not able to even deal with recurring highly toxic smog during the winters caused by crop burning in the adjoining areas. A reality check is the necessary first step, delusions don’t win medals. 

The preparation for the Olympics will require a revolution of sorts if we are to feature in the medal tally—that perhaps is the biggest challenge that’s beyond the scope of the Delhi government. In addition, Upadhyay warns, “Suddenly there’s a great interest of the private sector in sports. While most of the new sports infrastructure will come from private players, the government should retain the old infrastructure for the masses. The government shouldn’t use the Olympics as an excuse to disinvest and give sports to private players.”   

One thing is for sure, winning a medal in the Olympics is as big a challenge as being able to host it.