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April 23, 2001

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All in our 'games'

Rohit Brijnath

There has been much talk (read mud slinging) and discussion (read reputation bashing) and meetings (read table thumping) about the Afro-Asian Games.

I am quite confused though. Not about why it may not be held (after all, "we came, we saw, we shopped", is the national motto of most sporting bodies), but what it is.

I've heard about the Olympics Games, the Asian Games, the Pan-American Games, the Goodwill Games, the National Games, even the bullock-cart racing Rural Olympic Games or whatever-they-call-it in the Punjab.

But Afro-Asian Games (no, it is not restricted to Asians with Afro hairstyles)?

Then I realised we invented it. As in, if you won't give us the Asian Games (thank God, imagine the embarrassment then?) we'll just go and start something else.

But please, don't mock it. This is not just about sport, or so I'm told. When the Games were passed by the Cabinet a year ago, a spokesperson said, "The Games would help promote cooperation in the two continents." If they're not held can we presume Africa is irrelevant?

Nevertheless, as always, our planning has been meticulous.

First gifts had to be bought, like say for some IOC official (and please this is merely Indian hospitality, the fact that the official might have some say in whether India should get these Games is a coincidence). Which made me imagine the following conversation.

IOA aide: "Sir, crystal vase for foreign official will pay for two European trips for yachting team."

IOA bigwig: "Send them to Patiala."

IOA aide: "Sir, there's no lake big enough to sail."

IOA bigwig: "Arre, monsoons are coming, no?"

Indeed, we were so professional (and I've mentioned this before) that last year Digvijay Singh, politician but also president Shooting Federation took his Officer on Special Duty along to Rio for discussions. No doubt to explain the subtleties and intricacies of kabaddi to Juan Antonio Samaranch (and so what if kabaddi isn't one of the AAG disciplines, why nit-pick?).

In everything, we are thorough. Contrary to wild rumours, no one forgot that the stadium needs a new synthetic athletic track and hockey a turf; the fact that it hasnít been done is a mere misunderstanding. Like, perhaps, forgetting to order it? Or is the ship six months late?

Which brings us to the disciplines. Originally six disciplines -- athletics, swimming, football, shooting, tennis, and probably boxing -- were to be included.

On the other hand, it was later thought, why not throw in hockey. And come to think of it, this no doubt after a hefty nudge from the weightlifting federation president, why not some iron pumping as well. Indecisive? Certainly not, it's called flexibility.

So now we had 8 sports. Which reminds me of another imaginary conversation.

IOA aide: "Sir, since winning medals will ensure another Rio trip for us, why not put in badminton also."

IOA bigwig: "But Leander Paes is already playing."

IOA aide: "Sir, that is tennis. You mean Gopichand."

IOA bigwig; "What nonsense, Premchand is a body builder."

Of course, there were minor glitches. Like the venue. First it was to be held in Pune. Excellent idea. But a small problem arose. Pune doesn't have an international airport, and this is not the National Games. Oh, dear, glad someone thought of that.

Of course, now Sports Minister Uma Bharti has gone and messed up all this good work by tattling to the Prime Minister. Between a 1000 officials from the Sports Ministry, Sports Authority of India, IOA and national associations, no one could decide what needed to be done. Now Mr. Vajpayee has to? What, he doesn't have enough work already?

Still, at least the Games were cancelled/postponed/to be decided (please tax the box you like best) because of a valid, serious, thought-provoking reason.

Like ego.

Or so one delightful conspiracy theory would have us believe (donít laugh, remember Mel Gibson was eventually proved right).

Picture then these imaginary conversations.

ACT I: IOA office. Kalmadi standing in front of the mirror.

Kalmadi: "Who should be chairman of the AAG. Me, right, done, next."

ACT II: Sports Ministers Office.

Anonymous Official: "Madam, during Asian Games 1982, Buta Singh was boss. Now you should be boss. Madam, government is always boss."

Sports Minister: (Picks up phone). "Kalmadiji, I want to be Buta Singh."

Kalmadi. "Madam, that is not possible."

Sports Minister: "How much money did you say you needed for the Games?"

Kalmadi: "Madam, you misheard me. I said it is definitely possible. You will be boss (chairperson), I will be co-boss (co-chairman)."

ACT III: IOA Office. Kalmadi, with mirror, meets with VK Malhotra of the archery federation who has been actively involved in the AAG.

V.K: "Kalmadi I want to be chairman of AAG."

Kalmadi: "Amazing. Umaji wants to be Butaji, and now you want to be Kalmadiji. Arre bhai, what is your post?"

V.K: "I am IOA vice-president."

Kalmadi: "What is my post?"

VK.: "You are IOA president."

Kalmadi: "So who wins? (Turns to mirror) Me, right, done, next."

NOTE: All three actors in this drama are politicians. Which explains everything we need to know about Indian sport.

CONCLUSION: Back to reality. Bharti, of course, has some interesting views on cricket as well.

The question, which I wonder every day, is, do we not want to play with Pakistan, or do we not like playing in Sharjah, or do we not want to play against Pakistan, and in Sharjah, only when its cricket?

Ms.Bharti said recently India shares an "excellent bilateral relationship with United Arab Emirates."

Of course, cricket is quite another matter.

Then we have the matter of Pakistan. We can invite their poets, singers, artists, we can play them at tiddlywinks, marbles, hockey (a series is being organised in Sharjah), but cricket? NEVER. Explaining this restriction, Ms. Bharti said, "In India cricket has become the expression of national sentiment."

Which is another way of saying other sports don't matter.

So why have the Afro-Asian Games in the first place?

This article was written just before Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave the final go-ahead for the Afro-Asian Games on Monday.

Rohit Brijnath

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