If you have ever played strategy games like Caesar or Sim City, you would notice the people inside the game get bored and the game tells you need to give them some sort of entertainment. You are expected to build gardens, parks, arenas or theaters and allow citizens to chill out. In the game, it helps enhance your popularity among the people.
Well, that is what came to my mind as I read Azim Premji’s article in the Times of India about the expenses that is being incurred for the upcoming Commonwealth Games at Delhi. Rs. 28,000 crores i.e. US$ 5.97 billion is the estimated total spend for the games. This includes the cost of upgrading stadiums, infrastructure like the new airport terminal, wider roads, new flyovers and even the Metro rail extensions. This definitely does not include the cost of getting the poor off the streets or the below-average working conditions they had when building all this infrastructure nor the poor standards they were paid by. Cheap labor is a resource in India.
Azim Premji quotes a University of Oxford research in his article that states, “There are more poor people in eight Indian states than in the 26 poorest African countries combined.” 55 percent of India’s population of 1.1 billion, or 645 million people, are living in poverty.
When we can spend so much money on something like the games, why can’t we spend money on building schools and health-care facilities? I like the way Mr. Premji puts it, “the country has very little sports infrastructure on the ground. To encourage sports, our first step has to be to ensure children get access to playgrounds, good equipment and quality coaching. To not have this, and to instead spend on a grand sporting spectacle sounds like we have got our priorities wrong”
It reminds me of Russell Peters’ joke about India not playing the Fifa World Cup. He said in one of his stand up acts, “We are the second largest population in the world. There is 1.2 billion people there and we can’t come up with eleven dudes to make up a team!”
We cannot come up with eleven dudes for a soccer team or one person for a tennis court because our children are not encouraged in school to excel in extra-curricular activities like sports or music. Even if they were encouraged, there are no facilities in our schools to promote such skills.
If we scour through our streets in different cities and villages across India, I am quite sure we can find talent that will dazzle the world in different areas – sports, music, why even the popular mainstream areas of study. The only way to achieve this is by setting up schools across India, training teachers to look for talent and empowering them to encourage these students. Give the Indian youth an opportunity to see what is out there. Help them understand what they are capable of. They will not be able to do this when they are burdened with the load of winning bread for the family.
I am not against us hosting the Commonwealth games. It gives us a great opportunity, as a country, to showcase our qualities – variety, tradition, culture and beauty. It brings other nations’ attention to us. The marketing leverage a country gets out of doing something like this is tremendous. But as Mr. Premji put it, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate our priorities. We fought the British for independence because we wanted the right to build this country ourselves, to make sure all of us got equal rights to every opportunity. Not just to dream our dream but to live it.