New Delhi: Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the 141st International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in Mumbai. During his speech, Prime Minister Modi expressed India’s interest in hosting the Olympics, stating the country’s determination to prepare for the 2036 event. He also mentioned India’s willingness to host the 2029 Youth Olympics, expecting support from the IOC.
Despite India’s enthusiasm, the announcement of the 2036 Olympic Summer Games’ host will not take place before 2026 or 2027.
“It is expected that the next Olympic Summer Games election will take place under the new IOC leadership, which would likely mean not before 2026/2027,” an IOC spokesperson told The Wire.
This IOC session marked India’s second time as host. The first time was four decades ago, in 1983 in New Delhi.
The event this year was attended by global sports figures, including IOC president Thomas Bach.
But the road to being the host of the world’s biggest sports event is not so simple.
Is it possible? A varied scenario
The process of winning the bid to host the Olympic games is long.
This involves meticulous planning, strategic vision and rigorous evaluation.
The timing of when the Olympic Games are awarded to a city varies significantly. Tokyo and Paris were named hosts seven years prior to the event, whereas Brisbane secured the 2032 Games a staggering 11 years in advance.
For any country to get approval to host the games, the country needs to pass a “feasibility study” conducted by the future host commission of the IOC, the panel responsible for identifying and recommending hosts of the Olympic games.
Based in Switzerland, the IOC is responsible for organising the summer, winter and youth Olympic games. Photo: Gzzz/Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0.
Then, there are nearly 20 criteria based on which the IOC decides who the host would be.
The Wire reached out to former Croatia president and IOC member Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. She chairs the future host commission.
In a reply, an IOC spokesperson said on her behalf: “The proposed masterplan of any interested party is considered by the future host commission during continuous dialogue, when the IOC conducts a feasibility study to help the interested party to improve its project and to assist the IOC executive board with its strategic long-term outlook and decision-making.
“The IOC feasibility study examines the following criteria:
• Geopolitical, socio-economic, human development & environmental factors
• Vision and venue masterplan
• Alignment with existing long-term development plans, including youth strategies
• Envisaged sustainability and legacy impacts
• Political and public support
• Funding strategy
• Games delivery capabilities and
• Sports event experience, accommodation, transport, safety and security,” the spokesperson’s reply continued to say.
Though games are awarded to cities, countries are often interested in them for reasons that go beyond sport.
Other than India, Mexico, Indonesia and Poland have officially expressed their interest in hosting the 2036 Games. So not only is the competition fierce, there are questions on what is happening internally in sports in India.
More medals, less money
The Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has nearly doubled its budgetary allocation from 2014-15 to 2023-24, reaching approximately Rs 3,400 crores.
Central to this effort is the Khelo India Scheme, which has received substantial financial support, playing a pivotal role in providing opportunities to around 23 lakh school children. Much of India’s success at the Asian Games is being attributed to this scheme, i.e. more money, more medals.
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India won 107 medals at the recently concluded Asian Games in Guangzhou, beating its previous best of 70 medals in Jakarta in 2018.
With Neeraj Chopra acing every major competition since the Tokyo Olympics, and Indian sprinters – namely Muhammed Anas Yahiya, Amoj Jacob, Muhammed Ajmal Variyathodi and Rajesh Ramesh – winning gold, India has achieved unusual success in securing medals for track events. India has won a total of 29 medals in athletics.
India’s resurgence in shooting, marked by a remarkable haul of 22 medals, including 7 golds, signifies a significant return to prominence in the shooting arena.
However, the end of the Asian Games has brought attention to significant disparities in both medal counts and government funding allocations among Indian states.
Gujarat failed to win a single medal at the Asian Games. It has to be pointed out that under the Khelo India scheme, it was sanctioned the highest funding of Rs 608 crore.
And while Uttar Pradesh, having 21 medal winners, had secured the second-largest Khelo India funding of Rs 503.02 crore, Punjab, Maharashtra and Haryana, which collectively won 75 medals, were sanctioned less than Rs 200 crore combined from the Modi government under the Khelo India scheme.
(The three states were sanctioned Rs 93, 110 and 83 crore respectively.)
So, there seems little connection between medals won and money allotted.
These funding figures were disclosed by the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in August 2022.
The discrepancy between Gujarat’s funding and its performance, coupled with the commendable achievements of Punjab and Haryana athletes with limited financial support, has sparked discussions about the need for a more transparent and equitable allocation system.
Another persistent problem is the underutilisation of allocated resources and infrastructure. Despite the Khelo India scheme receiving Rs 520 crore and Rs 500 crore in 2018-19 and 2019-20, the actual expenditure fell significantly short, standing at Rs 324 crore and Rs 318 crore, respectively, as noted by the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development in 2019.
This inefficient utilisation highlights graver problems than can be attended to by a mere upping of funds pumped in. They point to systemic challenges within India’s sports administration.
Sports as a means for political PR
The use of sports by politicians to gain political mileage is old news.
Adolf Hitler utilized the 1936 Olympics hosted in Berlin to reshape the image of Nazi Germany. Hitler and Nazi officials skillfully tried to use the Olympics to push for large crowds in adulation of Der Fuhrer and the idea of German supremacy which the Nazis believed in.
At a time when Nazi Germany faced international criticism, the Olympics also provided the perfect opportunity for Hitler to charm global counterparts and portray the nation as open-minded and welcoming.
Noted journalist and author Eduardo Galeano, in his book Soccer in Sun and Shadow, writes how “the 1934 World Cup in Rome was an elaborate propaganda operation. Mussolini attended every match, sitting in the box of honor, his chin raised toward stands filled with black shirts. The eleven players of the Italian squad dedicated their victories to him, their right arms outstretched.”
Politicians of the current age have successfully used sports events for their own image-building. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ride in a ‘chariot’ around the stadium named after him in Ahmedabad with Australian PM Anthony Albanese got panned and was called out for the use of sports to enhance politics.
As sports writer Gideon Haigh – who was there in the Narendra Modi stadium when the two PMs wheeled about – spoke of the India-Pakistan match at the same venue: “The sight of all those blue shirts at the Narendra Modi stadium the other night was bizarre. It looked like a Nuremberg rally, didn’t it?”
Which city? Ahmedabad?
In a significant step towards a possible bid to host the 2036 Olympics, the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA) has earmarked an additional 50 acres of land as part of the state government’s expansive initiative to establish cutting-edge sports facilities in and around Ahmedabad.
This ambitious project aims to create the Sardar Patel Sports Enclave and the Olympic Village, pivotal components for hosting the global event.
With the cricket World Cup is hosted on India’s home turf, there is speculation that it conveniently coincides with Modi’s re-election campaign months before the general election.
India’s BCCI under Jay Shah – coincidentally, the son of India’s home minister, Amit Shah, seen as the second-most powerful Indian today after Modi – now wields considerable influence on the world cricket calendar. This was evident when matches moved from Pakistan to Sri Lanka due to India’s refusal to travel there last year.
On Sunday, IOC member Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic highlighted the issue of the increasing politicisation of sports in an update to international sports officials regarding nations aspiring to host future games.
Replying to The Wire’s query, an IOC spokesperson said that “committing to respect the Olympic charter means committing to preserve the practice of sport as a human right and the practice of political neutrality in sport. This includes letting athletes from all parts in the world come into your country to participate.
“Sports organisations including NOCs [National Olympic Committees] have the right and the obligation to operate without political interference,” the IOC spokesperson added.
The intersection of sport and politics, while natural, also makes all ‘sporting decisions’ merit scrutiny. While sports brings joy to fans, it’s disconcerting to acknowledge that this happiness often stems from morally questionable endeavors.
The Guardian in a recent editorial on ‘sportswashing’ writes of India, Saudi Arabia and more countries it claims are trying to use sports in ways that may not be very sportsmanlike.
It says, “Realpolitik can’t be overlooked. Respecting different cultures does not mean abuse is condoned. The lure of the arena ought not excuse a lack of moral responsibility. Sport can produce great public happiness, and the idea that only the ill-intentioned would censure it. But it jars to know that the pure joy experienced by many fans rests on the fruits of baseness.”
It may well be an Indian dream to be the host of the Olympic Games, but this dream must come only for sports and not for politics.