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Sunday, September 16, 2001

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Sports schedules in sub-continent may go haywire

By S. Thyagarajan

CHENNAI, SEPT. 15. Sports schedules in the sub-continent are bound to be disrupted as a result of the devastation in New York and Washington. While an official announcement on the postponement of the Afro-Asian Games is awaited there is genuine concern over the two important events in Pakistan - the South Asian Federation Games next month and the Champions Trophy at Lahore from November 3 to 11.

It is incomprehensible why an element of uncertainty is consciously injected into the decision regarding the Afro- Asian Games. The Prime Minister's address to the nation on Friday was clear as crystal, even if the Indian Olympic Association does not take note of the concern expressed by the Cabinet Committee of Security, expressly mentioning the difficulties in managing the Games involving two major continents, featuring as many as 80-odd countries.

Even assuming that the IOA and its President, Mr.Suresh Kalmadi are keen to keep the hopes alive seeking a meeting with the Prime Minister - the same mode was adopted when the Sports Minister, Ms.Uma Bharti made her views known on the Afro-Asian Games sometime ago - the economic hardships which the Prime Minister referred to as confronting the country must be weighed.

The question, and logically too, is whether the nation can afford to cough up no less than Rs.150 crores for a nine-day extravaganza that is unlikely to benefit neither India nor any other country taking part in the event. The list announced for various disciplines by the participating units clearly conveys a note of indifference to the concept by countries like China, South Korea, Japan and other African nations.

What is of paramount importance more than the quality of competition is the security aspect. The assessment at this point is that Asia may become a theatre of armed conflict with Pakistan and India feeling the impact in the region.

It is also debatable how many countries in Africa and Asia will risk their competitors in an environment, where safety is likely to be under threat. Some of the listed countries pulling out is not ruled out although there is no official reaction to the news of likely cancellation of the Afro-Asian Games.

AAG appears jinxed

No sporting event seems to be more jinxed than the Afro-Asian Games. In the limbo for a decade, this grandiose idea has been revived without a proper evaluation of the likely benefit that might accrue to the nation's sportsmen and women.

Votaries toeing the IOA line may project the event as an instrument to enhancing the infrastructural facilities in and around New Delhi after the Asian Games in 1982. Possibly, the move was also to include the bid for the 2006 Asian Games, but it ended in a fiasco, with India not getting the support of more than two countries. Eventually, Qatar won the bid. Little is being said of the expenditure - assumed as enormous in terms of foreign exchange - incurred in launching the campaign for the Asiad during the Sydney Olympics.

The controversy that preceded the Afro-Asian Games getting the nod of the Prime Minister needs no reiteration here. Since then few thing went right. At every step there was an irritant arising out of the differences between the Sports Minister and the IOA President. A patch up work did take place but misgivings persist. A financial disaster loomed large when IOA went back on its commitment to raise a substantial sum out of sponsorship to assist the Afro-Asian Games Committee.

Now that the Prime Minister has clearly outlined the need to tighten the belt and face hardships in the coming months, an expenditure to the tune of Rs.150 crores will be a criminal waste of precious national resources towards an event which, at best, will satisfy only a few egos. Only a clear-cut, unambiguous message on the cancellation of the Afro-Asian Games will be in order in the present circumstances. There is absolutely no need for procrastination.

Inevitably, the question of the much postponed National Games will also arise. The confusion here has been tragic and the growing communication gap between the IOA and the Punjab Olympic Association makes the whole exercise more pathetic. The point again is whether Punjab or the IOA will be able to raise the resources for an event of this magnitude especially when the State Government is in a tight spot financially. The National Games at this point of time will be another extravagant exercise with no relevance to any impending international competition.

By cancelling the full-fledged cricket tour to Pakistan, New Zealand has clearly hoisted the red-flag of security across the border. May be, the reaction underscored a degree of panic on the part of the New Zealand Cricket Association, which also pulled out its second string team from the Moin-ud-Dowla tournament in Hyderabad, but the action is likely to have its impact on other sporting events in Pakistan.

There is as yet no indication about the impending South Asian Federation Games, which were shifted from Peshawar to Islamabad but a re-thinking seems to be inevitable in the light of the terrorist catastrophe in the United States. With a conflict threatening its borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan has no option but to give a serious thought to going ahead with the SAF Games.

Even assuming that Pakistan refuses to reconsider the dates, the question whether India should take part with a contingent of 300 must be critically examined in the wake of the current scenario.

FIH monitoring developments

Indications are clear enough that the International Hockey Federation (FIH) is keenly monitoring the developing situation consequent to the bombing of the World Trade Centre towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, in the context of the Champions Trophy scheduled at Lahore from November 3 to 11.

The FIH, according to sources, have noted the caution given to the citizens by the European Union to visitors to the sub- continent. Interestingly, there are three European countries - the Netherlands, Germany and England - besides Australia in the six team Champions Trophy at Lahore. South Korea is the other country. FIH sources feel it is premature to talk about postponement or cancellation of the prestigious Champions Trophy but admit that the unfolding situation needs to be monitored closely.

While economists are assessing the negative impact on the nation's financial scene on account of the tragedy in the United States, there are definite pointers to suggest that sport in the sub-continent will feel that effect more.

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