It is supposed to be Goa’s biggest sporting event ever, with 750 athletes from nine Portuguese-speaking nations competing in multiple disciplines over 12 days.
But the third edition of what is called the Lusofonia Games — after Lusophone or Portuguese-speaking countries — could end up being more remembered for its endless organisational slip-ups and controversies.
From the time the tableau depicting the Mangeshi temple was gutted in a fire during the rehearsal of the opening ceremony, very little has gone right for the 12-day event, that started on January 18.
The event almost proved to be a non-starter when 400-odd drivers, who were supposed to ferry the athletes, went on a strike for almost six hours, protesting against the poor quality of breakfast served to them. A government probe found the food stale and inedible.
Minutes after watching the uninspired opening ceremony, Fatorda’s Independent MLA Vijai Sardesai called it an “embarrassing show” on local television. Keshav Chandra, the CEO of the Lusofonia Games, said he “hoped” things would get better going into the second half of the event, which has a budget of Rs 373 crore.
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“It’s been a tough journey, I can’t deny. Too much had to be done and we had very little time for preparation. But I am confident by the end of it, we will remember these games for a lot of good things as well,” said Chandra, an IAS officer.
The action from the sporting arenas too has not managed to gloss over the goof-ups. The football competition, hyped as the marquee event as Portugal had promised to send its top junior side, proved to be a letdown as Portuguese football authorities withdrew. Their official reason: We have heard there are malaria mosquitoes around Nehru Stadium in Panaji.
Brazil, which demanded a huge appearance fee, refused to send a team after initially agreeing to a deal with the organisers. Cape Verde, ranked 39th in the world, too pulled out of the football competition citing financial constraints.
Pullouts spoiled other events too. Five weight categories in judo were scrapped as there were just two entries. The women’s 78-plus category had just one. Similarly, the men’s shot put event attracted just two entries.
The situation was no different in volleyball, where there were only three teams competing in the men’s and women’s category, each assured of a medal before the event began.
The president of the Association of Portuguese Speaking Olympic Committees (ACOLOP), Alex Wong of Macau, tried to defend the participating nations for sending second-string squads.
“I think the postponement from November to January caused some difficulties for the members. We know that Goa has faced difficulties in organising this. We know there were questions, but for the moment there is positivity. The infrastructure is fantastic and the players are enjoying,” he added.
Before he could complete the sentence, however, the door of the press conference hall came crashing down. An embarrassed Wong cut short the media interaction.
As if these issues were not enough, the organisers were posed with a unique problem. Portugal’s chef de mission, Arthur Lopes, has complained about “excessive” use of English.
“These are Lusofonia Games, which are meant for Portuguese-speaking nations. Our intention is to promote the language. However, here the first language is English, which is quite upsetting. They should talk in our language,” Lopes was quoted as saying by the Portuguese media.
India’s chef de mission at the previous Lusofonia Games in Lisbon in 2009, Jovito Lopes of Goa, explained that the locals found it difficult to warm up to the concept.
“A majority of the locals are Konkanis and, for them, it is tough to establish a connect with this concept. Hence they haven’t warmed up to the event as one would have desired,” he reasoned.