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Has Delhi Got Enough Days And Dollars?

Jul 26, 2010  - Craig Lord

October is round the seasonal corner and New Delhi is gearing up for the Commonwealth Games. Security has been the issue (and many parents and sports fans are simply going to stay away a result) but now the question of what kind of Games are we likely to witness is being raised far and wide. 

At some venues, walls are missing, roofs have yet to be built, the swimming pool has water (albeit green right now) and there are more showers in our house than there are in the men's changing rooms, according to reports from folk who have visited the home of the Indian showcase of late. The swimming complex and Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium look likely to miss their August 1 completion dates (the Indian Times puts it more bluntly: they won't make it; a ceiling collapsed at the table-tennis arena; at the weightlifting arena last week, visitors from The Wall Street Journal reported that "the entrance was surrounded by dirt mounds, puddles and electrical cables. Inside, new vinyl flooring peeled in the humidity. A games official there acknowledged the facility is far from done. A foreman at the site said he thought it could be finished in 20 days." Tests events are nowhere in sight.

Such things have a way of sorting themselves out and doubtless the Games will go on and billboards will fill the places where the concrete did not quite stretch too, as has been the case at several major sports events in my experience. 

The bigger problem for Delhi if the bigger problem for any who wish to host mega-sports events right now: money. The WSJ reported on sports-marketing experts saying that potential multinational sponsors are not confident that New Delhi will be ready, which has left India shy of the kind of major sponsorship deals that cover large holes in the books of events that run to many hundreds of millions in any currency you care to mention.

Not helpful that the likes of Usain Bolt, Jamaica's track star, and leading British cyclists Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, are among those who are giving Delhi a miss. In the pool, strength is not in question. The best of Oz, Brit home nations, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and so on, will be there.

Will the best line-up of sponsors also be there? The Indian government gave the quasi-public organizing committee a $345 million unsecured loan for operating costs, that figure comparing to expert estimates of between $2 billion and $6 billion for the total cost of hosting the Games, provision of infrastructure included.

The Games organising committee sold television broadcasting rights for about $64 million, while tickets could generate $13 million more. Public-sector firms such as Indian Railways, power generator NTPC Ltd. and Air India have put in substantial amounts, running to tens of millions, while there there are deals with the likes of Coca-Cola Co., Adidas and Hero Honda Motors Ltd. Many of those are service-provision contracts and therefore generate no money, as such. And in a nation with 14 thriving cellphone companies, the Games has failed to attract a telecoms partner - so far.

Sandeep Goyal, group chairman of the India operations of Dentsu Inc., FINA partner, explained the problem to the WSJ: "Even if you do become a sponsor now, what window will you have to generate visibility? When you put in good money, you're expecting to use that property for a reasonable amount of time."

Controversy can be found at the heart of the sponsorship world in New Delhi. Deals done with public-sector outfits such as Indian Railways, NTPC and Air India are reported to have generated fees for Australian sports marketing firm Sports Marketing & Management, even though those large entities state that they had no dealings with the Australian outfit.

The WSJ reported Nandan Kamath, a sports lawyer and marketer, as saying that the Australian agency was getting paid to be "a rather unnecessary intermediary between a government-controlled company and an entity [the organising committee] that has basically been underwritten by the government".

Sports Marketing & Management responded by noting that it "has identified and reached out to leading companies in India, both in the private and public sector" and that its level of interaction with those companies varies.

None of which will mean much to athletes in the big scheme of things. But food will. The caterer for the Village is in place but five other caterers have had their contracts cancelled with a view to cutting costs. As world-class teams will tell you: there is no cutting costs when it comes to nutrition for some of the world's finest athletes across many sports. Which is why some teams will be, in part at least, catering for themselves.

It was November 2003 when Delhi got the green light. More than 340 weeks since it was 'games on' in the bid vote, Delhi has about 10 weeks to go before it and the Commonwealth Games will be judged by athletes, teams and media as the results start to light up the scoreboards. It will be a while longer, perhaps, before the full extent of financial results are known.