Commonwealth Games: Build morale now, criticize later

By Sanjiv Kataria, IANS,

As the clock gallops closer to Oct 3, the date when the 2010 Commonwealth Games begin at New Delhi, I am amongst the millions of terribly nervous Indians. It is the same awful feeling that I experienced as a student when my exam preparations were below par.

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The pressure would start building up as soon as my teachers began pointing out weaknesses in concepts as well as singling out deficiencies in preparations. My mother thought I was spending too much time in fun and frolic and was wasting my father’s hard earned money. The feedback would serve as a shock, and without any further argument I would get down to the task at hand.

Today, I wish and hope that the screaming headlines of the last few days serve to build the same nervousness and positive energy in the members of the Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee and all others who are even remotely connected with building infrastructure or the management of the Games. I hope the organizers collectively realize that things are not hunky-dory at a time when the leadership of the Organizing Committee is being faulted day after day by the media.

One also hopes that the organizers realize that anything less than ‘zero defect’ conduct of Games will cause an irreparable damage to the image of a nation billed as the next big economic super power.

Repeated alarms raised by the media to awaken the organizers out of their slumber and shed their false sense of complacency have been less than successful.

Now, let us examine a few options to (a) recover the lost ground, (b) avert an impending disaster and (c) take measures to ensure a smooth conduct of the games.

Recover Lost Ground: The organizers must realize that we as a nation have had enough of missed schedules and blame games. We have produced an infrastructure that not only appears far below global standards but has cost the nation over 15 times more than the budgeted amount. And for many of these slippages and shoddy workmanship visible to a naked eye, you don’t need evidence from the Technical Committee of the Central Vigilance Commission.

Apart from that we have created an equally disastrous record of not being able to communicate with the media with any reasonable credibility. The tone and body language of the organizers belies the seriousness needed for an international event. The only chance to recover from this situation is to let the heads of various bodies bury their differences — both political and hierarchical-and get down to showing the world India can, and India will deliver a sparkling performance.

Something must also be done to prevent politicians from within the ruling establishment to stop bickering publicly. This is a time for the nation to come together and practically demonstrate that Indians hold visitors in as much esteem as God Himself. ‘Athiti Devo Bhava’ needs to be implemented in thought as well as deed across the bureaucratic spectrum and among the citizens of Delhi.

Avert an impending disaster: The customary face-saving pat for the organizers has been handed out by none other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and that too in the presence of visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron. The PM has asked the country’s top bureaucrat to step in. As the CEO of a billion strong India and the chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Manmohan Singh must examine if a colossal disaster is indeed facing the nation. It is better to invoke the provisions of NDMA to sort out the threat of a disaster here and now. For invoking it even a week later may not bring in optimum results.

Create supportive environment: Some of us believe that the success of the Commonwealth Games is dependent only on getting the infrastructure ready.

However, a far more critical element for a smooth conduct of the Games is the morale and motivation of the 30,000-strong force of volunteers, facilitators, not counting the tens of thousands engaged in security, house keeping and upkeep of the facilities, between now and the end of the Games.

What are we as a nation doing to keep up their morale? What are we as a country doing to set high expectations from amongst the hundreds of vendors and partners who have to ready critical equipment and keep it in ship shape before, during and after the Games? It is hard imagine that this negative publicity is going to leave them as motivated and in the same enthusiastic mode as when they were enlisted to lend support a few years or quarters ago.

The media, which has always risen to build and protect the image of the country, too has a responsibility to hold on to their exclusive and, perhaps, damaging stories that may cast aspersions on the quality of organizing, procurement, recklessly wasteful expenditure and favoritism until the successful conclusion of the Games. Once the sporting spectacle is over, agencies engaged in playing a watch dog role can play their respective roles. But for now they must allow the preparations for the Games to go on without a distraction.

(2-8-2010-Sanjiv Kataria is a strategic communications and public relations counsel. He can be reached at sanjiv.kataria@gmail .com)