After what seems like the most protracted build-up to a sporting event in recent memory, October 3rd marked the day on which the Commonwealth Games finally got underway in New Delhi. In March, #*IT Happens warned that, while the Games offered a tremendous opportunity for the host city, the potential gain also carried with it considerable risk.
Six months on, and the storm clouds have well and truly gathered; the Australian Government’s Travel Advisory for the Games paints a dire picture:
- On September 19, two tourists were injured in a shooting in Delhi
- The Australian Government continues to receive reports of terrorist plots to attack public places, including hotels and tourist locations in Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities throughout India
- According to the bulletin, there is a high risk of terrorist attack in the city
With the world’s media scrutinising the event, any terrorist attack - regardless of where it takes place in India - it would have a damaging effect on Delhi’s safety reputation.
Health Concerns There are also significant public health concerns:
- Delhi is going through its worst seasonal outbreak of Dengue fever for a number of years; there is no treatment or vaccination available and the disease can be deadly
- Malaria is another significant risk in Delhi
It has also been reported that some Games athletes are suffering from 'Delhi-belly' - although the cause of such outbreaks has not been confirmed.
Building Standards Concerns Questions have been raised about building standards:
- In the lead-up to the Games, a pedestrian footbridge outside the main stadium collapsed, as did a section of the roof of the weightlifting stadium – the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) asserted that “building standards in India may not be comparable to those in Australia”
- DFAT also noted that traffic conditions (due to poorly-maintained roads) are hazardous, and cause a 'large number of serious traffic accidents'
While the Opening Ceremony and first week of competition have been a success, the problems have not relented. Last week a major public gaffe was made by the embattled Chairman of the Delhi Commonwealth Games Organising Committee during a press conference. He mistakenly thanked the late Princess Diana (instead of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall), for accompanying Prince Charles to the Games Opening Ceremony.
Risks to International Relations
Blunders such as mistaking the titles of VIPs during speeches, errors in international protocol when dealing with heads of state or playing the wrong national anthem during an international sporting fixture can all be a major source of reputational risk to an event organiser. Whilst other such incidents have not occurred during these Commonwealth Games, they occur with enough regularity at other events that they should always be included in the risk assessments of major international events.
The unfortunate fall-out from these disruptions is that, leading up to the event, the media's focus has not been on the athletes, but on the capacity of the city to deliver the Games. With one week into the event now, however, this has begun to change. Athletic achievement now dominates our media coverage instead of the pre-Games challenges of a fortnight ago.
A goal of hosting the Games is 'brand legacy': to improve the international profile of the host city and bring economic benefit through tourism and investment.
If things go seriously wrong in event planning or delivery, however, the brand legacy can be negative. Remember the following:
- Structural failures - The 1997 Maccabiah Games in Israel is remembered by Australians for the bridge collapse and deaths of four Australian athletes
- Security and terrorism - The 1972 Munich Summer Olympics is remembered internationally for the terrorist hostage crisis resulting in the deaths of, among others, 11 members of the Olympic Israeli team
- Bribery scandal – The 2002 Salt Lake City bribery scandal where it was alleged that members of the Salt Lake Organising Committee (SLOC) offered bribes to IOC members to secure rights to host the Games
As we go to print, the Delhi Games' 'brand legacy' is mixed: with poor project planning and delivery, alleged fraud, terrorism concerns, disease outbreaks, poor hygiene and sub-standard building structures, a flawless second week is needed to strengthen 'brand India'. We will hold our breath and hope for no more problems, but given what has already occurred, it is hard not to suspect that in the years to come we’ll look back at the Delhi Games as a good case study in major event planning.