x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Final verdict on Commonwealth Games is a win for India

Event seen as a metaphor for country's resilience and a sign to investors that 'things work out in the end'.

NEW DELHI // After all the controversy, it was finally sport making the headlines as the Commonwealth Games ended on a high yesterday.

India's impressive performance, finishing second in the medals table with 38 golds, has helped spur a huge interest in the Games.

The organisers also resolved the ticketing problems that led to woeful attendance for many events in the first week.

Even an 8-0 thrashing from the Australians in the men's hockey final could not spoil the jubilant mood outside Dhyan Chand Stadium yesterday.

"The Games have been amazing, we've never had anything like it," said Neetika Kaushal, 24, a researcher from the capital. "I was really concerned that the negative media would hamper India's image, but this is such a welcoming country and the organisers really came through in the end. We got back all the pride we lost."

PS Samyal, an Indian army officer, has taken his family to see eight different events. "This is the beginning of India," he said. "The atmosphere has been fantastic."

Asked whether they think India should bid for the 2020 Olympics, his two daughters, aged 14 and 15, screamed their approval.

Last night's closing ceremony featured the Games mantle being handed over to Glasgow, which will host the event in 2014.

When the dust settles in Delhi, many questions will remain over how the preparations were handled.

The international press has fixated on the collapsing footbridge, the dengue fever outbreak and filthy rooms in the Games Village. But the bigger domestic concerns are the corruption allegations and the long list of labour and human rights violations that characterised preparations.

There are fears the organisers will use the success of the Games to gloss over these questions, although civil rights groups are determined to see them addressed.

Moushumi Basu, of the People's Union of Democratic Rights, which prompted the High Court to investigate working conditions at stadiums earlier this year, said: "I'm sure the organisers would like to put those question behind them, but the people of Delhi are not going to forget."

The Delhi Labour Department has logged an exhaustive list of violations with the Delhi High Court, including the lack of health and safety equipment, and the failure to register workers or pay them minimum wages. The next hearing is due on November 10.

The Central Bureau of Investigation is also expected to launch numerous cases after a report by the Central Vigilance Commission in July which found "large-scale procedural violations, including corruption" in the way contracts were handled. Under pressure from the government, these cases were delayed until after the Games.

"Action needs to be taken," said Ms Basu. "This is a real test of whether the government is serious about tackling corruption or whether they will simply allow things to continue as before."

Despite concerns over what all this might do to the country's investment climate, India's business sector has been largely unaffected by the negative publicity.

On Wednesday, the Bombay Stock Exchange's index of leading stocks, the Sensex, reached a 32-month high. That increase has been spurred largely by record levels of foreign investment, which has already reached US$21.8 billion (Dh80bn) for the fiscal yearstarting in April - a third of that since last month.

"The Games has turned out to be better than worst feared," said V Ravichandar, the head of Feedback, a consulting group in Bangalore that advises multinationals. "The Games were really a metaphor for investment in India. It's not a smooth ride, but things work out in the end."

It has also been a successful week on the diplomatic front, with India elected to a two-year seat on the United Nation Security Council, with support from 187 of the 192 UN members.

Next month the president of the United States, Barack Obama, will visit New Delhi in a trip that is expected to cement India's strategic relationship with the US. New Delhi hopes it will win American backing for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

The Games have also raised a broader question about whether large-scale sporting events are appropriate for developing countries. The lack of government coordination means that no definite figure is available for the total cost of the Games. The final tab is thought to be at least US$6 billion, and perhaps considerably more.

At the same time, the 2010 Global Hunger Index released earlier this week by the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington placed India 67th out of 84 developing countries on its measure of nutrition. It found that 44 per cent of children in the country are malnourished.

The government tried hard to mask the rampant poverty that exists in New Delhi, with reports in the local press of beggars being rounded up and sent back to villages, slums being bulldozed and small shopkeepers forced to close down during the event. Despite tickets costing as little as 50 rupees (Dh4), the crowds at events were clearly dominated by India's wealthier residents.

Nonetheless, there were some positive reports from those who could not attend the actual events.

Kamakshi Devi, a 19-year-old maid who works in several south Delhi homes, said: "The men in my area have behaved a lot better because there are so many police around. The cops tell us we have guests and must put on a good show."

She added that her husband has no interest in sports so she had not visited the stadiums, but she still hoped the foreign visitors have had a good time: "We want them to be safe and go back with a good impression of India."