The long, winding drive through the lush, green, football fields on one side and the serene Mandovi River on the other from Thivim to Panaji hardly gives an impression of a city that will be hosting its biggest-ever sporting competition. Right through the 20-odd kilometer journey on NH-17, stray banners with the Lusofonia Games’ mascot printed on it hang from the lamp posts.
It doesn’t change much, even when you make your way into the city. With so much left to do regarding the basic infrastructure itself, the organisers, understandably, have hardly had any time to publicise the Games as they had intended.
Inside the sports secretariat, they are sorting out the invites to be sent out for tonight’s opening ceremony, ensuring no important person is overlooked. Funnily, the name of the sports minister Ramesh Tawadkar is missing from the list; an error immediately rectified. The minister has been overtly critical of the Games but has changed his tone in the last few days, sounding more optimistic and positive.
It’s tough to sound positive, though. On Friday, more than 700 — 739, to be precise — athletes descended on the land of sun, sand and sea for the third edition of the Lusofonia Games that will begin on Saturday, with the opening ceremony scheduled at the refurbished Nehru Stadium in Fatorda.
After an embarrassing build-up that saw the Games being postponed from November last year, the organisers insist Goa is ready to host its biggest — and most expensive — party. On ground level, however, Goa seems more like a reluctant host rather than a city that is known for giving a warm reception to its guests. The multi-sport event is in line with the Commonwealth Games (meant for former British colonies) and the Francophile Games (former French territories).
The Lusofonia Games are more political in nature than the other two, used more as a tool to promote the Portuguese language. So strong is the emphasis on the language that Portugal’s chef de mission Arthur Lopes even refused to talk to English-language media. “These are Lusofony Games. No place for Ingliis here,” says Lopes, who also holds a high-ranking position with the Portuguese Olympic federation, in a heavy accent.\
Keshav Chandra, a 1995 batch IAS officer, who is the CEO of these Games, laughs when asked if he has taken Portuguese lessons. “I considered night tuitions but I have learnt on the job,” he says.
On the job, however, he has had his plate full. Goa won the bid to host the 2013 Games over Brazil and Sri Lanka in 2009 under the Congress-led government of Digambar Kamat. After three years of inaction, Manohar Parrikar’s BJP government decided to host the Games, giving organisers little more than a year.
“Technically, they have built everything in one continued…