Indian athletes arriving for the first-ever Afro-Asian Games (AAG) in November will be in for a surprise: they won’t have to live in rat-infested rooms in Nehru Stadium fighting flies rather than the competition but will travel to the capital by air, live in five-star hotels and travel in air-conditioned,Indian athletes arriving for the first-ever Afro-Asian Games (AAG) in November will be in for a surprise: they won’t have to live in rat-infested rooms in Nehru Stadium fighting flies rather than the competition but will travel to the capital by air, live in five-star hotels and travel in air-conditioned buses.But not because the country has decided to give its athletes the respect and comforts they deserve. These luxuries will be extended only during the Games and will be swiftly taken away once they end. Then the waste of the entire exercise – costing more than Rs 100 crore – will probably hit the athlete and the taxpayer the hardest.STATE OF THE STADIA: The IOA’s decision to organise the Games at short notice means that the Nehru (top), Talkatora and National stadiums are only now being readiedThe Indian Olympic Association (IOA), organisers of the Afro-Asian Games, is treating them as a huge public-relations exercise for “promotion” of sports in Africa and Asia. “The Games will increase Afro-Asian solidarity,” says Suresh Kalmadi, working chairman of the AAG Organising Committee and president of the IOA.Kalmadi says the AAG are “an attempt to break the monopoly of Americans and Europeans. They (Europe and the US) get to host meets because they support each other’s candidature but there is no cooperation between Asia and Africa.”The AAG may in fact turn out to be a very expensive face-saving and public-relations exercise for Kalmadi and the IOA, whose track record, even in the Asian and African fraternity, is not good. India made a bid for the 2006 Asian Games and was supported only by one country – Bhutan – out of 44 Asian nations. Kalmadi’s explanation is that the IOA’s bid budget wasn’t big enough.advertisement”Other countries spend millions of dollars in bids but India spent only Rs 75 lakh. The result is for all to see.” However, none of the 100-plus members of the IOA contingent sent to the Sydney Olympics to lobby had stadia passes. An IOA official claims that lack of access to stadia and hotels prevented them from giving the Indian effort the edge. Unfazed, the IOA now wants to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games.Talkatora stadiumIt is difficult to understand why India, which lacks resources to bid for events, wants to spend Rs 100 crore on the AAG. In a departure from common practice, the Games organisers will offer free air tickets and five-star accommodation to players and officials. The only country to have offered free air travel was South Korea during the Seoul Olympics.But after being swamped by official requests, Seoul only paid for the athletes’ tickets. An IOAofficial claims that the money being showered on the event like confetti should have been spent on improvement of facilities and equipment for Indians. Kalmadi believes otherwise. “A spinoff of the Games would be updated sports stadia,” he says.Now the situation has reached such a pass that in a transparent attempt to please as many people in the IOA and the Government as possible, a gaggle of committees and subcommittees – with a total of 500 members – has been formed comprising a host of Sangh Parivar luminaries, apparently on Union Sports Minister Uma Bharati’s recommendation.National stadiumThese include editors of RSS mouthpieces – Sheshadri Chari of Organiser (vice-chairman, Ceremonies Committee) and Tarun Vijay of Panchajanya (vice-chairman, Media Committee) – about two dozen BJP youth wing leaders and MPs. Strangely enough, mountaineers Bachendri Pal and Santosh Yadav have been named on the Stadia Committee. BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha is chairman of the Hospitality Sub-committee. To compound matters, a number of members have already resigned since their consent was never procured before they were “appointed” on the various committees.Says BJP Rajya Sabha member Balbir Punj who resigned as chairman of the Marketing Committee: “My interest in sports was never more than watching a few matches on TV. I was not consulted before being given the task.”There are 27 committees, of which about five meet every day. Members who live outside Delhi are entitled to free airfare and a daily travel allowance of Rs 1,000. According to an Organising Committee circular, every committee member from outside Delhi is allowed to claim three days of travel allowance for a one-day meeting.”The Games will end US and European monopoly.”Suresh Kalmadi, Chairman, Organising Committee, AAGThe cost of hosting the Games has been revised three times: from an estimate of Rs 40 crore last year to Rs 56 crore after the addition of hockey and weightlifting to the disciplines.advertisementBy the time the Government clearance came in April this year, the cost was once again revised to Rs 110 crore.The Government will pitch in with Rs 37 crore for improvement of infrastructure and an additional Rs 20 crore for the conduct of the Games, leaving the organising committee to raise the remaining amount through sponsorship and sale of telecast and broadcast rights.An indication that the Games were poorly and sloppily planned came when it was discovered that they would coincide with major international tennis and hockey tournaments and club soccer leagues. Now the IOA is in an unholy haste to get the dates of the events of the hockey and tennis tournaments changed.At the moment there is no weightlifting federation in the country to select players for the AAG after a Kolkata court disbanded the ad-hoc federation in existence. If there ever was a shambles waiting to happen, the Afro-Asian Games would be its advertisement.