Saturday, October 3, 2009

Suresh Kalmadi: Melbourne was the best but Delhi will be better

The buck stops here. Etched on a shiny brass plate, these words catch your attention as Suresh Kalmadi welcomes you inside his tastefully designed office in the Organizing Committee building near Jantar Mantar.

The buck indeed stops at the table of this man, the chairman of the 2010 Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee. With a year to go for the Games, it’s under his guidance that a 450-strong team, divided in 34 sections, is working on getting small details in place — the venues, opening and closing ceremonies, Games Village, hospitality and media centers. ‘‘Soon, we will have a team of 1700 people,’’ he told TOI in an exclusive interview. Some excerpts:

Q. Let’s start with the big question everyone is asking: will we be ready in time?

A. Well, the work began slowly. After all, we are staging a big event like this after 28 years. The world has changed a lot since the 1982 Asiad. Unlike the developed countries, we didn’t have a readymade template to work on, or ready infrastructure. It took time to take stock, plan things and get started. You have to take the government’s clearance for everything.

Environmental issues crop up, courts get involved. Whenever you win a bid, there is tremendous excitement. After that the blame game begins. But I’m sure I’ll get cooperation from everyone. The PM says it must be done well. We have a stable government which makes a difference. Sports minister MS Gill and Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit are all working hard and there’s perfect co-ordination among all agencies involved in the Games work.

Work at almost all stadiums will be completed by December 31 this year. The others will be ready by March 2010. We will still have enough time for giving finishing touches and having trial runs. We will have some big events like World Cup hockey in March 2009 and Commonwealth shooting in February. Other trial runs will take place in July.

Q. How do you react to Commonwealth Games Federation chief Mike Fennel’s scathing report on delay in construction work?

A. Well, nine out of 10 visiting foreign dignitaries have praised our work. Victorian premier John Brumby recently visited the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium complex and the hockey complex. He said the stadium designs are excellent. People were equally scathing before Melbourne but those turned out to be the best Commonwealth Games ever.

Q. How do you compare the Indian infrastructure with that of Melbourne?

A. Melbourne was the benchmark for us. We studied that and tried to incorporate the good bits. Our Games Village will be far superior, probably the best ever.

Q. Are you sure of attracting top athletes like Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell to the Games? October is the end of the athletics season.

A. True, it is a little late in the season but April-May would have been very hot and July-August wet and humid. The athletics season gets over in September-end or first week of October. So, October is good enough. A longer gap could have deterred the athletes. We will make all efforts to ensure Bolt, Asafa and other top stars come for the Games.

Q. There’s talk of the Games overshooting the budget.

A. It’s a revenue-neutral event. We are trying to generate money through sponsorship, TV rights, merchandising and sale of tickets. TV rights for some countries have already been sold and the figure has exceeded our budget. We are in talks with 71 companies for sponsorship, so we are sure of reaching our target.

Q. Beijing was ready a year in advance while Athens was still hammering in nails when the Olympics began. Where do you put Delhi 2010?

A. When we do the Olympics, we will also have everything ready a year in advance (laughs). Well, we are a democracy. We need to take clearances from many agencies. We don’t function like China but we will be ready.

Q. Aren’t you worried the stadiums will turn into white elephants?

A. We will have to ensure that they are used by the people of the city. All the agencies which look after these stadiums have to work on that. The Games will give a big boost to Olympic sports. We have new heroes like Vijender Singh, Saina Nehwal and Abhinav Bindra. We have been winning more medals of late. I’m looking at a multiplier effect.

Q. Are you worried about the security aspect?

A. Why should I? We have a terrific security system in place. Foreigners have strange notions about our country; after coming here, their opinion changes.

Q. And pollution?

A. We will be the first Green Games. CNG is in place here and we are hopeful of earning carbon credits. In fact, the Thyagraj Stadium is a ‘green stadium’.

Q. Will you want to bid for the 2020 Olympics after this?

A. I would not want to comment on that right now.

Q. Sports minister MS Gill and Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit have labeled the Games as a ‘shaadi’, where everything will work out fine in the end.

A. It’s not a ‘shaadi’. It’s a well-planned event.

Q. Event Knowledge Services (EKS), OC’s private consultant, has said in its report that work at seven stadiums is way behind mark and expected to miss the deadlines by a substantial margin.

A. That report was for August. The EKS has undertaken venue tours in September also, based on the recovery schedules drawn by construction agencies concerned. It says that milestone dates in the recovery schedule are realistic and manageable and that increased efforts will ensure timely delivery. EKS completion date includes the FOP (field of play), the stadium buildings and the external work, which includes landscaping, pavements, horticulture etc. The construction agencies have drawn recovery schedules which include mobilization of more work forces, working in two extended shifts.

It is also not factually correct to state that action is pending at the OC’s front as regards sports surfaces. The details of synthetic surfaces/turfs and wooden flooring were conveyed to the ministry way back in February-March 2009 and ministry has notified agencies for procurement of surfaces by different venue owners in April 2009.

There has been persistent demand for appointment of foreign FOP consultants. CPWD has already engaged FOP consultants for stadium wherever considered essential. OC has also appointed competition managers for all 17 sports events.