Asian Athletics Championships: Sarkaar willing, the tough got going

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Most of the adults in India perhaps know how the government machinery works. One sees it every day in flyovers that are delayed by years, in irrigation canals that are incomplete for decades and in day-to-day business of granting permissions, passing tenders, procurement, finance settlement so on and so forth. And this applies to all kinds of governments, local to Central. In such a milieu, when a city hosts more than couple of thousand international visitors from nearly 45 countries and give them international standard sporting facilities, and all that has to be ready in just 90 days, one can imagine what a ‘sarkari’ machinery can achieve when it wills to do so.

Bhubaneswar successfully hosted the Asian Athletics Championships 2017 (AAC2017). Apart than the galaxy of Asian nations participating, the welcoming sand art, the decked up Kalinga stadium, the Rangabati rendition by Shankar Mahadevan, a glittering closing ceremony and the political athletics that have been part of AAC2017, one theme that stood out was the readiness of Bhubaneswar as the venue in just about 90 days.

The AAC was earlier hosted by Delhi in 1989 and Pune in 2013. So when Ranchi pulled out of hosting the event it fell upon the temple city to get ready. Getting an international level track, a practice track, renovation of the poorly-kept stadium, high mast flood lights, renovated warm-up tracks and apart that hospitality, transport, tourist activities is no mean achievement. While the scale of the event may not be like that India observed in Commonwealth Games in recent past, it certainly was not a state-level athletics meet.

As Athletics Federation of India Secretary CK Valson has stated on record, it was funding issues which Jharkhand government stated while expressing inability to host AAC 2017. This underlines the fact that the ‘poor’ state Odisha had it in her to commit to such spending. The much discussed bureaucracy took it upon itself to prove the sceptics wrong this time. The local administration went all out to raise awareness, conduct preliminary events, sprucing up surroundings. The event management team pulled out all stops to achieve what is eyeball-grabbing worthy. The media team focussed on better communication.

Every single activity and there certainly have been a plenty of them involves the regular steps of floating tenders to approval to the real work to quality assurance, and much more. As reported in the New Delhi edition of a national newspaper, most equipment were imported. Imagine you having to do that for a small business of yours. Tough, right? And if it were all to happen in the classical way they happen, time would never be a factor in the equation. But with a dedicated team working on a mission, it was all made possible in 90 odd days. The sum of the grievances is, as of now, far below the achievement.

The 90 days turnaround shows the potential that sarkari machinery holds. One is always left to wonder what could have been the status of the State or the country at large if governments showed that potential each time and for each issue. But then they are largely sloths. It is up to the various checks and balances in the system to hold governments accountable. If AAC 2017 weren’t an international event with eyes on it like no other, would the government go all out to ensure these standards?

Scepticism regarding lack of positive externalities for cities hosting large sporting events like Olympics apart, for a State which has produced champions in Dutee Chand to under-17 rugby teams to hockey stars, a focus on sports and sporting facilities was much needed. In announcing creation of bigger and better sporting facility, Odisha government has made a strategic commitment. Hosting AAC2017 has given a fillip to the aspiration of the youth. It will now be on the government to ensure that it is not a one off spark of brilliance and to work for development of a sporting culture.

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