The FIFA U-17 World Cup is just less than a month away and the excitement is building for the first ever FIFA tournament in India. Widely proclaimed as a game-changer for Indian football, the positivity surrounding the event is infectious and there is a strong belief that the World Cup is the first of many international sports events to be hosted by India in the coming years. Not too long ago, our former Minister of Youth Affairs and Sport, Mr. Vijay Goel, expressed his views in favor of India bidding for the 2032 Olympic Games, and following that, the Ministry has sanctioned a feasibility study to gauge whether hosting an Olympic games in 15 years’ time is a realistic expectation. So is it really a vision worth pursuing?
What makes this chase tough?
The biggest challenge facing any host city or country for a major sport event is the cost. Sporting spectacles have become more extravagant affairs and the sheer cost associated with hosting the event can be off-putting for governments who fear economic destabilization. It took the city of Montreal almost 30 years to repay the debts from hosting the 1976 Olympics! The cost of hosting the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 is estimated to be around $12 billion, a major part of which was spent on infrastructure. India would face a similar challenge being a country that cannot boast of state-of-the-art infrastructure as of today. Moreover, if Rio is to be taken as an example again, what happens to the infrastructure post-Olympics? Will India be a country after 2032 where there will be regular high-level participation in lesser known sports which then will have world-class facilities?
It is also important to note that hosting the Olympics poses a different challenge compared to hosting a FIFA World Cup or the world championships of any sport for that matter. The FIFA World Cup is spread across the country, in multiple cities, whereas the Olympics have one central host city. This means that city would bear the maximum burden in terms of cost and infrastructure overhauls. Also, in comparison to the 32 countries participating in a FIFA World Cup, there are 200 odd countries at the Olympics. This is far too many people to fit into hotels and that’s where the concept of Olympic Village comes in, also in the host city. One might argue that the city of Delhi benefited from the hosting of Commonwealth Games in 2010 in terms of better infrastructure. But one cannot overlook the thousands of slum dwellers who were displaced for the same without planned relocation and the excessive cost overrun which hit the economy hard.
Olympics and its impact on the crowd
One more potentially flawed assumption is that an event like the Olympics could foster greater participation in sports. A research titled “The Olympic Games and raising sports participation: a systematic review of evidence and an interrogation of policy for a demonstration effect” concluded that there was no evidence of increased participation in sports in the UK post the London 2012 Olympics. However, it did foster re-engagement in sports for a certain section of society. Should India be making such a huge investment with the hope of achieving increased participation when the UK failed to pull-off the same? The demonstration effect of such an event can, of course, be utilized to increase participation with proper policies in place. But, will the Indian government be in a position to invest further in sports post-Olympics to put these policies to practice? Instead, does it make more socio-economic sense to invest directly in grassroots sports and accessible sporting infrastructure for the general masses?
The questions posed above will undoubtedly be covered in the feasibility study conducted by the ministry. We can only hope that the government will put the public interest first before political image. If Rio has shown us anything, it is that the hype surrounding the month of sporting celebration can drain out very fast, leaving behind a pile of regrets that cannot be burnt to ashes with the Olympic flame.
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