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Delhi Games legacy is one of debt and crime
The Australian - October 3, 2011
The Delhi Games fiasco has exposed to the world the inherent dangers of doing business in the subcontinent; a message those already stung say must not go unheeded in the Gillard government's upcoming white paper on "Australia in the Asian Century".
The four highest-ranking officials from last year's Games, including chairman Suresh Kalmadi, and at least six local government officers and private company executives are in jail on corruption charges.
Investigators say further charges will soon be laid over the construction of the athletes' village and 34 high-rise towers that remain empty 10 months after they were to have been handed to now furious buyers.
The half-dozen venues – built or reconstructed at monumental cost to the Indian exchequer – are mostly closed to the public.
The flagship Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, named after the father of modern India, has stood idle since the October 14 closing ceremony. Rubbish piles up outside its gates.
Six Australian contractors to the Games are fighting to recover a combined $22 million in unpaid debts. Some are also battling breach-of-contract allegations from a revisionist organising committee trying to claw back money already paid. The total debt owed to 20 contractors is more than $85m.
The Delhi Commonwealth Games was to have launched India on the world stage as the next emerging superpower and the newest sporting nation; instead it has kick-started a national anti-corruption campaign that threatens to topple the government.
Steve Dettre, managing director of sports information company Infostrada, which is still owed $618,000 from the Delhi Organising Committee, said: "It won't be an anniversary we'll be celebrating."
After 12 months battling impenetrable Indian bureaucracy, Mr Dettre concedes that recovering his money is a "lost cause". "We're not concerned that Delhi has hurt our reputation. We've done five Olympic Games and people know what we can do. It's India whose reputation has suffered," he said.
A mammoth report into Commonwealth Games corruption by India's auditor-general estimated the games' final bill at more than $US6 billion, nearly 100 times the original budget.
The report appears to blame every participant bar the athletes themselves for the event's failings: from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, Mr Kalmadi and his organising committee, the Commonwealth Games Federation and private contractors. At least one Australian-run company, events organiser EKS, has since launched legal action to defend its reputation against defamatory claims against it.
But there have been no thanks to the companies that delivered beyond their contractual obligations to rescue the event from what, until the October 3 opening ceremony, had looked like certain failure.
The Games' curtain-raiser, with its joyful self-parody and glitzy kitsch, had the unmistakeable hallmarks of Australian events impresario Ric Birch – the man responsible for the Sydney 2000 Olympics opening ceremony, but the kudos went elsewhere and there was no final payment for Mr Birch's company, Spectak.
"It was mostly Spectak people who made it all happen in the end under great pressure and totally unappreciated," Mr Birch said. He has chalked up the $300,000 still owed him as a learning experience he now shares at every public speaking engagement.
Mr Birch is concerned at NSW government plans to push ahead with a planned trade mission to India next month and says Australian officials must give fair warning about the pitfalls of trade with India. "It's a bit offensive for the government to say 'Yes, we know some of our citizens have been totally duped but we're still going to do business with you'."