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Yes PM, India Can Dare to Host the 2024 Olympics

India must go for the 2024 games, and score a double strike – for itself, and for democracy!

Updated
Sports
4 min read
Fireworks explode during the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at the National
Stadium August 24, 2008. (Photo: Reuters)<!--EndFragment-->

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi today in the national capital. Bach is likely to discuss the future of Indian sports amid speculation the country might bid for 2024 Olympics.

I argue that India must go for the 2024 games, and score a double strike – for itself, and for democracy!

The Olympics have become an economic cuss word for city governments, who believe it is impossible to host them profitably. Only autocratic rulers, who can brazenly fudge numbers or simply hide losses in opaque accounts, now seem to be bidding, to show off trophy spectacles. While 12 cities bid for the 2004 games, only five pitched for the 2020 event.

Run Olympics as a Profit Generating, Viable Enterprise

Yes, India must dare and bid for the 2024 Olympics. And run it as a “profit generating, viable” enterprise. I know that “socialists” will pounce on me, calling me anti-poor, saying that we cannot afford these “silly, destructive luxuries in such an awfully poor country”. As if our poverty is the perfect excuse to stay poor!

The Indian national flag is projected onto a balloon during the
Commonwealth Games closing ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in New
Delhi October 14, 2010. (Photo: Reuters)<!--EndFragment-->
The Indian national flag is projected onto a balloon during the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in New Delhi October 14, 2010. (Photo: Reuters)

Now let me make the case. This should not be a sarkari event like the 1982 Asiad or the 2010 Commonwealth Games, but a for-profit endeavour executed in public-private partnership by the finest companies and managed by leaders of proven competence. Let us scout for international talent to populate the organizing committee, if necessary.

Peter Ueberroth, the chairman of the Los Angeles’ games organizing committee, was confident that private enterprise would underwrite the costs, ‘to enhance itself and show all that is good about mankind.’ The 1984 event earned a profit of $223 million; although, it did not account for the full costs of transportation infrastructure, policing and security, says Peter Boykoff, author of ‘Celebration Capitalism and the Olympic Games’.

Need Smart Thinking & Deft Planning

The 1992 Barcelona Games show what smart thinking and deft planning can achieve. A third of the $8 billion infrastructure-spend came from the private sector – the highest in Olympics history (It cost another $1.3 billion to stage the games). The city itself was transformed. The Poblenou industrial area at its core was rebuilt, the Olympic village was converted into housing, ribbons of roads were laid or redone, the waterways were spruced up and the airport refurbished.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics are the costliest so far at $41 billion, but it was a preening exercise for the Chinese Communist Party. The government says the infrastructure investment would have been made anyway; the games only advanced them. There have been intangible benefits like improved English speaking abilities among ordinary Chinese, enhancement of hospitality skills and the infusion of a competitive sports spirit across the nation.

The Olympic cauldron is seen alight as fireworks explode during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012.&nbsp;(Photo: Reuters)<!--EndFragment-->
The Olympic cauldron is seen alight as fireworks explode during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

The 2012 London Olympics were an excuse to revive a poorer part of the city, and are seen as a benchmark in project delivery and event management.

Of course there have been expensive misadventures too, among them the Montreal, Sydney and Athens’ Games.

Just Do It

But India should look at the successes, and believe that it can out-perform those. India could prepare to bid for the Olympics as a multi-location event by investing in productivity-enhancing infrastructure like high-speed trains and creating new cities (eg, the capital of Seemandhra) with principles of modern urban design (for other cities to emulate).

India should also use its increasing global heft – after all, by 2024, we should be a $ 6 tn economy, the 3rd largest in the world – to wrest a higher share of TV rights revenues from IOC (remember, IOC would take only 4% between 1960 and 1980, which has jumped to a greedy and unsustainable 70% now). We should also push back hard on demands to build “new” infrastructure – instead, we should refurbish/rebalance existing stadia, transport capacity and hotels, across the country, in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata etc. If we can do this for IPL, we can pull off the Olympics too.

Finally, the cost-benefit analysis of the Games should be done on modern principles – where critical infrastructure is not seen as an “expense”, but an investment which creates collateral value and yields returns over decades – and not on the outdated “cash expense principles” adopted by government auditors.

India has to be rebuilt, and the Olympics of 2024 could be one among dozens of sinews for that. Prime Minister Modi understands this imperative; he should just do it.


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