In 2010, India had the fantastic opportunity of making a mark in the international sporting world by hosting the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Little did we expect the heavily disappointing and traumatic aftermath that awaited. The CWG was criticised on almost every front – from infrastructure to the actual sporting events and was most badly hurt by corruption charges.
Eight years on, and India has still not entirely been able to break free from its tarnished image from 2010.
More so, since 2017, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) appears to have been pushing India back into the arena as a sporting heavyweight. The IOA has made public its interest in bidding for three global multi-sport events over the next 15-year period: the 2026 Summer Youth Olympic Games (YOG 2026), the 2030 Asian Games, and the 2032 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Just recently, IOA secretary general Rajeev Mehta met with the three-member bid committee of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and submitted a formal expression of interest to bid for the 2032 Games.
Monetary and collateral impact
But before we assess the potential of the IOA’s ambition, a brief look at the goings-on of the Olympic world over the past few years would set a proper context.
“Olympic legacy is the result of a vision. It encompasses all the tangible and intangible long-term benefits initiated or accelerated by the hosting of the Olympic Games/sport events for people, cities/territories and the Olympic Movement.”
This is the utopian impact of the Games on a host country, as per the IOC.
The Olympic Games have been designed with the conviction of leaving an indelible mark on host cities by providing an impetus to national and international investments, foreign relations, world-class infrastructure, tourism, sporting culture, etc.
Through the years, the Games in Seoul, Barcelona or London have proven to fulfill these expectations. The 1988 Games in Seoul facilitated enormous profits leading to transformative reforms and an elevated international image; Barcelona was adjudged as one of the top world tourist destinations after the 1992 Games, creating about 20,000 permanent jobs and a solid sporting heritage thereafter in Spain. Similarly, the 2012 Games in London gave the UK economy a boost of 9.9 billion pounds.
However, historically, the Games have proven to be more of a liability than an asset. Most hosting countries suffer from the “economic valley effect”. Often, the buildup to the Games sees a huge surge in investment, immediately followed by a dramatic dip in economic activity in the post-Games period.
The 1964 Games gave Japan a growth rate of 13.3%, before dropping to 5.7% the following year. After the 1976 Games in Montreal, for the next 40 odd years, Canadians suffered a massive deficit due to lopsided investments in social infrastructure. Athens and Rio have faced similar economic trauma leaving the country’s financial state in shambles.
Beyond monetary impacts, the Games have shown a variety of collaterals – from the demolishing of historic buildings, to the wiping out of acres of forests, or the displacement of under-privileged neighbourhoods, threats to indigenous communities, human rights infringements, etc.
All these looming threats of hosting the Games have daunted not just developing nations, but also the developed ones from even submitting a complete bid. The 2024 Games bid saw a total of five contending cities (Paris, Los Angeles, Budapest, Hamburg and Milan), but only two bidding cities (Paris and Los Angeles) were left by the end. This narrative seems to be a continuing one, with the 2026 Winter Games seeing eight hopeful cities with only two of these now remaining (Stockholm and a joint Italian bid) in the race.
Also, the past few Games have shown a trend of eventually spending almost double the amount to host the Games than estimated in their bids. China spent a whopping $44 billion for the Beijing 2008 Games, while Rio 2016 cost $13 billion.
The Games have become an almost unaffordable product and it is becoming close to impossible for the host countries to justify the costs. Even the procedure of bidding for the Games goes on for about nine-ten years. The Olympic Games are granted to a host city seven years prior to the hosting of the actual Games and the bid process begins a couple years earlier.
Understanding that the bidding itself can be tedious and expensive, the IOC introduced a more streamlined mechanism through the Olympic 2020 Agenda and the 2017 New Norms. In 2017, the International Olympic Committee made a “historic” decision by granting the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games simultaneously to Paris and Los Angeles respectively. This means that one Olympic bidding cycle will be skipped, and the next bid will be made directly for the 2032 Games.
The 2026 Winter Games and the 2032 Summer Games will be the first Games to fully implement the New Norms’ bidding timeline.
So far, an Olympic bid has been made with a single city as its venue. The Olympic Games are governed on the fundamentals of the Olympic Spirit. At the time of the inception of the Modern Olympic Games, it was held to be in Olympic Spirit, that all the athletes be hosted under one roof, living together in an Athletes’ Village. The idea was to enable an interaction between competing athletes from different countries to foster world peace and unity. Though in reality, we may need this now more than ever, it has become a practically and logistically unsustainable proposition for host cities.
To host the Games, one city needs to have the sporting infrastructure to host 310 events (around 25 plus different sports with various disciplines) and high-end accommodation arrangements for at least 15,000 participating personnel (including athletes, referees, coaching staff, medical staff, etc.). In addition to this, there will be several delegates, VIPs, ambassadors, government heads, IOC members who need to be accommodated. And most importantly lakhs of travelling spectators – the Rio 2016 Games saw an attendance of 5,00,000 people.
Further, certain sports have special requirements. Rowing needs a straight two-km river to host their events. It is almost impossible to find an existing metropolitan city which can sustain this enormous influx of people and infrastructural requirements.
Understanding this concern, the bids for the Games are now gradually changing. For the first time, Italy has submitted a three-city joint bid for the 2026 Winter Games, which has been welcomed wholeheartedly by the IOC.
Assessing the parameters
With this context in the international circuit, the IOA must consider the following issues in India while preparing to participate in the race for the 2032 Games.
1. To be considered a sporting power house, India must leave a mark at the upcoming Olympic Games. Without having a significant number of Olympic medallists, it is hard to convince other countries that our nation of a billion people takes sports seriously.
For the past ten years, China has systematically created the infrastructure and environment for its winter athletes. By the time they host the Winter Games in 2022, they will have top calibre athletes ready to win medals in front of their local audience.
Recent achievements by Indian athletes at continental events and world championships must translate at Tokyo 2020. We must continue encouraging, grooming and scouting young athletes, training international level coaches, and creating top-notch facilities.
2. To successfully host an event with more than 10,000 athletes and 310 events, a high level of expertise, know-how, and skill is crucial. Up until now, India has hosted only a handful of multi-sport events, the Asian Games (1951 and 1982) and the Commonwealth Games (2010). In addition, it has hosted single sport championships like the ICC Cricket World Cup (2011), FIFA U-17 World Cup (2017) and now the Men’s Hockey World Cup (2018).
However, none of these really match up to the grandeur and scale of an Olympic Games. To actually host big multi-sport events may prove to be the key and their interest to host the Asian Games (2030) and YOG (2026) may go a long way in cementing India’s prowess to pull off the mighty Games.
3. Typically, an Olympic Games is funded through public money, national and international corporates, multinational sponsorship deals, sale of broadcasting rights, etc. Once the Games have been granted to a city, it is a natural magnet for a plethora of investors, experts and global stakeholders.
Designing a long-term investment and marketing strategy will ensure high participation from the private sector, reducing the burden and reliance on the government funds.
4. The Indian government should make the most of this opportunity to tackle issues of the environment, pollution and waste management. Drastic strategies must be adopted to control environmental obliteration, augmenting water, food and sustainability. It can be a stepping stone for tackling public health and sanitation issues, eventually ensuring clean and safe facilities for the Olympic athletes.
5. Any government would like the prestige to have hosted an Olympic Games during their tenure. Continuing a stable democratic polity, where its citizens are safe, secure and fearless would prove to be a huge attraction for participating countries. After the elections in 2019, it would be the passing of another 13 years until the 2032 Games are held. Unwavering political support for the pursuit of hosting the Games, beyond party politics-irrespective of the ruling party will be mandatory.
6. The IOA must be able to identify potential locations for hosting the games early on.
This is because, firstly, they can capitalise on the multi-city bid design to spread the games within a particular state or area to meet all the needs. Secondly, assuming India hosts the 2026 YOG and 2030 Asian Games, they should ensure a long-term vision for the infrastructure built for these events. This will help guaranteeing creating facilities having a long-life span as also a reduction of actual ‘Games’ costs.
The sweet smell of victory
Considering India’s uneven economic growth across states and pressing national priorities, the topic of the ‘need’, ‘desirability’, ‘viability’, or ‘practicality’ of hosting the Games in India, is an unending debate. Especially with contenders like Australia, Indonesia, a unified Korea, or Germany already on way to creating strong bids for the 2032 Games, ours may prove to be fighting for a lost cause!
However, creating an Olympic bid not just with an outlook of hosting an event, but with one to primarily channelise development efforts for the country will prove to be a win-win. It is only when we perceive the games as a long-term development enabler, can it be made a sustainable proposition.
So far as competitors go, it is never going to be a straight forward victory. The earlier we can begin planning and strategising, the stronger and cheaper the actual event can be. However, a common trend in the Olympic world shows that a failed attempt for one bid can be a stepping stone for a victorious bid in the coming years.
The IOA’s recent statement of being ‘dead serious’ about hosting the Games should undoubtedly be looked at positively. Hopefully, a 2032 bid for the Olympic Games by India would prove to be a classic scenario of trusting the process.
Samiha Dabholkar is a sports consultant.