IOC supremo Thomas Bach will meet India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday amid growing expectations that one of the Olympics’ perennial underachievers may make its first bid to host the Games.
Even if hosting the Olympics in 2024 appears unlikely, observers say Modi may sanction a bid for further down the line, although he will be anxious to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing headlines that accompanied the shambolic 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
With Beijing having played host in 2008 and Tokyo due to do the honours for a second time in 2020, there is a growing sense that an Indian bid to stage the world’s biggest sporting competition is overdue.
Speculation that Modi could approve a bid was fuelled by recent reports which said the nationalist premier would raise the issue when he meets Bach, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) president, in Delhi.
Randhir Singh, India’s only IOC member since 2001, said interest in a bid would be welcomed by his colleagues, while playing down talk of 2024 as “wishful thinking”.
“The IOC would love to see India host the Games,” Singh told AFP in an interview.
“Everything will depend on how the talks between Modi and Bach go because ultimately it is the government that has to make a call.
“But why not? If it is not 2024, it could be 2028 or even 2032. There is more awareness when you organise a Games. The interest grows, there is more sponsorship, there is benefit all round.”
Despite being the world’s second most populous nation, India has a poor record in Olympic competition.
Shooter Abhinav Bindra, who won gold in 2008 in the 10-metre air rifle event, remains the country’s only individual champion, while the last of India’s eight field hockey titles came back in 1980.
– Corruption scandals –
The medal haul from the London Games in 2012 was a meagre two silver and four bronze, leaving India 55th in the medal table.
Worse was to follow at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, when competitors weren’t allowed to parade the Indian flag at the opening ceremony after the national Olympic association was suspended for electing corruption-tainted officials to key posts.
The staging of the 2010 Commonwealth Games was overshadowed by a string of corruption scandals and budget overshoots that could damage India’s hopes of being allowed to host a much bigger event like the Olympics.
The Times of India reported last month that Modi was “open to the idea of bidding for the Games” but wants “to know the costs, financial implications and other details” to avoid a repeat of the 2010 debacle.
Modi’s election last year was due in part to his reputation as a sound administrator during his decade as chief minister of the thriving state of Gujarat, and his zero-tolerance approach towards corrupt officials.
Singh, a former trap shooter who represented India at five Olympics, predicted that Modi and Bach would work well together.
“One is a gold medal-winning fencer leading the Olympic movement with a new vision, the other is a dynamic prime minister who wants to take the country to a higher level,” Singh said.
Having hosted the Commonwealth Games so recently, Delhi can boast a number of top-notchsports facilities as well as a comprehensive metro system which is seen as a crucial ingredient to a successful bid.
With Tokyo due to host the Games in 2020, Asia is seen as an unlikely venue for the 2024 version. Paris, Rome and Boston are all expected to throw their hats in the ring by the mid-September deadline.
But Modi, a fervent nationalist, knows that a successful bid for 2024 will ensure him an even more prominent position in India’s history books.
– ‘Soft superpower’ –
Veteran sports columnist Ayaz Memon said India should bid for the Games, arguing that it would be a huge boon to national prestige.
“There will be sceptics who will talk of white elephants and enormous costs, but hosting an Olympic Games can enable a changing and dynamic India to become a soft superpower,” Memon told AFP.
Singh, who has been the secretary-general of the Olympic Council of Asia since 1991, said the perception that India was only interested in cricket was changing.
He pointed to the success of the made-for-television leagues in hockey, badminton and football, as well as the achievements of individual stars such as tennis ace Sania Mirza and badminton’s world number one Saina Nehwal.
“In the past, the priorities of the government in a developing country like ours were different. There could not be so much emphasis on sport,” he said.
“But now patronage in the form of sponsorship from business houses has begun. Overall, the picture is changing. We are slowly changing.” – Agence France-Presse