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Winning A Gold For Bankruptcy

Jul 23, 2011 6:48:03 PM - thesundayleader.lk

The Greeks, they say won a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics for overspending. Indians, it is said, won many gold medals at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games for fraud and corruption.

Sri Lanka it appears is doing its damnedest to win a gold medal for bankruptcy at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, if it comes to be staged at Hambantota.

Sporting international jamborees like the Olympics and Commonwealth Games (which are second only to the Olympics) cost an enormous amount of money although they bring much prestige to countries that successfully host them. President Barack Obama’s visit to Copenhagen despite tremendous pressure of work at home to have his native Chicago host the Summer Olympics after the London Games failed but this was welcomed by many Americans who thought that America could not afford to host an Olympic Games in the mist of a severe economic depression.

Billions of dollars or peanuts?

The Athens 2004 Olympics cost $11 billion, double the original cost estimated.

New Delhi Commonwealth was estimated to cost $ 1.6 billion but it ballooned to $ 6 billion.

The estimated cost of the Hambantota games  has not been officially released but our dapper Central Bank Chief Nivard Cabraal was quoted in The Hindu (May 11) saying that Sri Lanka’s proposed investment in the Hambantota games will be $ 4.1 billion.

$ 4.1 billion is not peanuts or cadjunuts (as we Sri Lankans say). All we can hope for is that the governor’s financial projections in this instance would be much more accurate than his hedging with international banks on the rise and fall of petroleum prices.

Historical hangovers

Greece staging the Olympic Games and Sri Lanka attempting to play host to the Commonwealth Games have striking similarities.  Both countries are burdened with a sense of history and those countries with such histories have an inclination to attempt to repeat such histories, whatever the cost.

The Olympics is a Greek creation. Mythology has it that in 776 BC Heracles (Hercules) brought a sacred olive tree and planted in Olympia where the games began with competitors from neighbouring Greek states participating. Boxing, wrestling, marathon running, throwing the discus and javelin, short sprints and most other sports are those that passed on from Greek civilization to lesser civilisations of that time. So when modern Olympics commenced it was only natural that modern Greeks wanted to repeat their history.

Sinhalese too want to live through those glorious historic times of their ancestors. And even though they seem not to have had sportsmen of the Greek variety, the ancients built dagobas, irrigation reservoirs and temples. Our modern heroes have done just that although cynics say that the Dutugemunu of yore did not build the Ruwanveliseya and Mirisawetiya dagobas and other monuments on loans from the Chinese Exim Bank at commercial rates of interest or State Bank of India loans but on the strength and genius of the Sinhalese.

Grecian ambitions

Now the Sri Lankan urge is to take to Olympic sports and just as ancient Greeks built their Olympia by the sweat of their brow and slave labour we too want to create an Olympus for our Hambantota games with these Chinese loans. Who will pay back these loans and through how many generations is entirely another matter. Those detractors opposing the Hambantota Games like UNPers point out to the costs involved but they forget how much their beloved leader JRJ spent on the accelerated Mahaweli Scheme. That scheme produced only rice and power but the Hambantota Games will be a monument to our present day leaders – you know who.

Perhaps a few lines of the poem by Shelley, Ozymandias, we learnt in school five decades ago is apt.

I met a traveler from an antique land

Who said; two vast trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert…

And on the pedestal these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias

King of kings: Look on my mighty works and despair.

Nothing beside remains round that colossal wreck

Borderless and bare.

The lone and level sands

Stretch far away.

(The allusion is to Pharaoh Ramses the Great)

Modern Greeks, despite being descendants of the greatest of thinkers the world has known: Archimedes, Aristotle, Plato, Heraclitus, Democritus, Socrates, etc., made the colossal mistake of staging the 2004 Olympics on the verge of a financial crisis.

Folly of Athens

The $ 11 billion they spent in 2004 may be insignificant to the debt burden they now have to pay back estimated around $ 485 billion. But some Greek writers are saying that it may have been the beginning of the end. The 2004 Olympics at least illustrates what went wrong with Greece, says Derek Gastapulous Associated Press writer. He quotes Stella Alfierie an outspoken ‘anti games critic’ who says that the event marked ‘the start of Greece’s irresponsible spending binge’.

‘They exploited the feeling of pride in the Greek people… money was totally squandered in useless ways’.

The figure of $ 11 billion dollars does not include the expenditure on sports related activities such as building up of an entirely new metro system and improvements to highways.

This marks a difference between the proposed Hambantota Games. The Greek infrastructure  development will help the already congested city of Athens – a new airport, improved railway system, new Metro but does the sparsely populated Hambantota District and the environs around which the event will take place need such sweeping infra structure and superhighways?

Seven years after the Olympic Games which swelled the hearts of Greeks with national pride, the scenario is one that results in depression and despondency. The writer says:  The Olympic sites are barely used or are empty. The long list of failures include: the ‘Baseball Diamond’, massive man –made canoe and kayak course, areas built for ‘unglamorous sports: Badminton, table tennis and judo remain empty, swimming pools are empty and stained. Another report says that 21 of the 22 venues built are unused and in various states of disrepair. Tax payers are paying for maintenance of these sites.

New Delhi folly

The story of the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth games is too well known to be repeated in detail. The Chairman of the Organising Committee Suresh Kalmadi an Indian parliamentarian and Lalit Bhanot the Secretary General of the committee are now in jail facing charges of corruption. The Times of India (May 14 2010) reported two months before commencement of the games that  costs have gone up by 525 percent while unofficially it went up by 1575 per cent.

The official estimated cost of the Hambantota Games is not exactly known but we will be assured by officials like our confident Central Bank governor that everything will be hunky dory. He has said in Malaysia at the formal ‘lodgment ceremony’ that this project will ‘secure long term sustainable and economic development’. It does not enlighten us laymen very much on what would be gained from spending billions of dollars of the tax payers’ money. Almost every project launched these days speak of long term sustainable development’.

If the cost of the Hambantota Games will be nearly equivalent to Sri Lanka’s budget deficit as stated in some quarters this is indeed a deadly game the country will be playing will be playing on the brink of bankruptcy.

India at least won a total of 101 medals at the 2010 games. How many medals can Sri Lanka win in 2018 even with the help of quack doctors?