Sidney Levy, the Rio Games CEO invoked the most non sports of shortcomings when trying to prop flagging self confidence of Brazilians against the onslaught of global criticism over them delivering the Olympics. “Brazilians have a low perception of themselves and their ability to deliver,” he began, before drifting, “like we’ve never won a Nobel Prize.. how to build character of a nation is very complicated.”
This was a strange lament for a sassy country made to feel not good enough on the eve of a sporting event, the Games. Levy though would wrap up his media interaction with a blunt prophecy: “Today every organiser wants to create Games that are same or even better than the last one. Don’t. We can’t keep asking for more and more.”
After Beijing’s extravagance, a course correction was in order and it’s taken a frugal London and a slumping Brazil for sports administrators to realise future games cannot keep pegging the budgets higher and higher up. That Rio is on the brink of hosting South America’s first Olympics should give India hope. Michael Payne, a former IOC director of 20 years who also was a key advisor for the Brazilian bid, reckons India should not stop dreaming — never mind the Commonwealth Games scar.
One example India can stop scratching at that 2010 scab is USA. “Remember Atlanta 96 were not great. Here was America slipping up! But they still won the Winter Games and are strong contenders for 2024,” he says. Atlanta failed on various counts of technology, transport and security, and Brazil went through 4 failed bids — since 1936 actually — before they eventually cracked the code.
Payne reckons there’s a right time for every country — Beijing’s wasn’t sooner than 2008. And IOC’s fundamental aim to take Olympics to new parts of the world — Beijing, Rio were as political as technical choices — means India’s time is imminent.
It might not be anytime soon though — given the next two Winter Games are in Korea and China and 2020 is Tokyo, a safe choice given Japanese efficiency. But the lull might be a right time to start planning.
Rio of course was dress rehearsed with a successful Pan Am Games and India will need to go through stress testing it’s preparedness with perhaps an Asiad. But Payne believes there’s excitement in IOC circles about a different Indian venue.
“Your tech city Hyderabad had started murmurs a few years back. And that might be the way to go,” he believes.
He sees a contradiction in the CWG situation. “How was it that a country that is the world’s outsourcing capital known for business and innovation did not think of outsourcing the CWG to a competent professional management group?” he asks.
Payne explains big events operate on timelines that governments aren’t equipped to deliver on. “China does it, but in most other places it is a cultural challenge. Timelines are non negotiable. Whether you are ready or not at 8 pm this Friday the Games will start. That needs more than government-bureaucracy, something that the CWG relied solely on. I think if India gets open and honest about shortcomings of CWG and can present a case of why they can be different next time, they are in with a good chance few years from now.”
As a bid expert for years Payne has watched the power of social media to bite into host countries and magnify problems exponentially. “In Rio some criticism is justified: not cleaning Guanamara bay was bad. And government didn’t follow through on that promise. Also transportation was left to the last second.”
But he reckons the Rio stage is unique and one ought to wait for beach volleyball to start for these Games to start dazzling the world off its feet and forget about the woes.
India he believes offers its own uniqueness. “The culture, heritage, hospitality it’s a very clear identity. India’s a great story to tell. The branding doesn’t worry me, the nuts and bolts does,” he adds.
If Rio has, then Hyderabad (or Delhi) can.