2036 Olympics bid: Why Delhi, not Ahmedabad, could have been a natural choice

Five new stadia in the vicinity of Narendra Modi Stadium are being planned for the spectacle

The 2024 Summer Olympics commonly known as Paris 2024, is slated for July 26 to August 11, 2024, in France.
(photo: DW)
The 2024 Summer Olympics commonly known as Paris 2024, is slated for July 26 to August 11, 2024, in France. (photo: DW)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The Vibrant Gujarat Summit 2024 in Ahmedabad earlier this week saw Mukesh Ambani, the scion of Reliance Group, reiterating Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise that India will be bidding for 2036 Olympics. It’s now hardly a secret that Ahmedabad, which already boasts of the world’s biggest cricket stadium, will be the chosen one as the bidding city.    

Calling it ‘the age-old dream’ for India, Modi said at his address at the 141st Congress of International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Mumbai last October: “India will leave no stone unturned in the preparation for the successful organisation of the Olympics in 2036 – this is the dream of the 140 crore [1.4 billion] Indians.” 

It should be time for sports fans of the country to get excited at the prospect of the bid, though it will not be till at least another two years that the hosting rights will be awarded – with Poland and Indonesia being the other two countries who have also expressed interest. While the process of awarding the Games goes through a rigorous process of checks and balances – India’s growing clout as an economic power (not to speak of the influential presence of Mrs Nita Ambani in the IOC excom) is expected to work favourably among the IOC members when the crunch moment comes. 

An event which is still 12 years away should give India enough time to guard itself against precedents of cost-overruns and other economic dangers – which have been faced by most host cities since Barcelona’s success with the 1992 edition. But before we assess it, the bigger issue is the logic behind projecting Ahmedabad as the potential bidding city ahead of New Delhi, the capital with a history of hosting two Asian Games (1951 & ’82), an Afro Asian Games (2003) and Commonwealth Games (2010). No prizes for guessing, the decision is not about sport alone. 

Speaking at the inauguration of a state level sports event in Gandhinagar, his Lok Sabha Constituency, Union Home Minister Amit Shah was categoric in December that the planned Sardar Patel Sports Complex in the vicinity of the Narendra Modi Stadium for cricket will be hosting the Summer Olympics – should India be awarded. The federal government has, according to him, allocated Rs 4600 crores for the complex and another Rs 600 cr for Navrangpura Sports Complex. A graphic illustration of five new venues have been also in circulation in social media since the beginning of the New Year, while tenders for construction have been also floated.       

Well, it’s the prerogative of the government as to where they would like to plough in such a huge investment. After turning Ahmedabad into the virtual cricket capital – despite not having enough history to back it up – the twin city of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar are now being projected as the new sporting hub for the future.    

Interestingly enough, the history of Olympic movement shows that most of the Summer Games have taken place in capital cities of the host country – barring a few exceptions like Barcelona, Atlanta or Sydney (closest to the Australian capital of Canberra). All the six editions in the new millennium, including the upcoming one in Paris, were in capitals while those hosting it for the second time (London, Paris) choosing to benefit from makeover of existing venues or repurposing them to save on costs. 

In London 2012, considered as a model for the ‘Budget Games’ for the future, the football event was played at Wembley Stadium while tennis was held at the All England Club, venue of Wimbledon. Come Paris, the tennis event will be played at French Open venue Roland Garros. It could have been certainly worth a thought to pitch Delhi once again – which had developed it’s infra structure anew ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games – despite the corruption charges which followed later. 

Most sports economists feel that any country planning to host the greatest show on the earth in today’s climate should tread very carefully as study shows that the infra structure costs borne by host countries to prepare for the Games generally fail to generate sufficient economic demand in the subsequent years. 

Andrew Zimbalist, a US-based sports economist, says: “If a host country is not extraordinarily careful and doesn’t plan very effectively, then they end up spending billions of dollars on facilities and infrastructure that they don’t need. Or even if they do need it, it’s in a very low order of priority. So they are diverting resources from urgent and important uses to uses that are very dubious and questionable.” 

Cynical words, one may argue, as the IOC normally gives a time-frame of two Olympics to work on the infrastructure and construction of the facilities are expected to pick up pace only if India are awarded the Games. However, in a country with low GDP per capita like India, any such ambitious move should hinge on pragmatism rather than building any personal legacy!  

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