After he and his team successfully bid for the 2010 Commonwealth Games Indian Olympic Association President Suresh Kalmadi has now set his sights on bringing the 2016 Olympic Games to New Delhi.
In an exclusive interview with Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh, Kalmadi said he sees no problems in India bidding for the Olympics as by then the country will have the necessary infrastructure following the staging of the Commonwealth Games.
"Since the entire money for hosting the Olympics comes from the International Olympic Committee, the cost factor should not worry us. We may have to have few added facilities, like an Olympic Games village etc., but there's nothing to worry about," Kalmadi said, while outlining his plans.
India has been holding talks with Pakistan on the political front. What is going on in the sports arena between the two nations?
We are going to Pakistan in March/April, when the South Asian Federation Games will be held there. We are going to Pakistan at a very good time when relations between the two nations are on the upswing. We will use this opportunity to tie up dates and other things with the federations of various countries for the Commonwealth Games. Though the Games are still six years away we must start working in right earnest from now. The Indian cricket team will also be in Pakistan at that time. So things are looking good and, hopefully, our sports relations should also improve in days to come.
You have decided to bid for the 2016 Olympic Games in New Delhi. On what basis are you doing so?
The start of the journey to stage the 2016 Olympic Games was the successful completion of the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad last year. We got over a hundred Olympic committees there. They committed to support the Indian bid for the Olympics during the solidarity exercise. In this exercise it was decided that Asian and African nations would support each other whenever one came forward to bid for the Olympic Games or any other sporting event. Prior to this Asia and Africa had been a divided lot. Hyderabad brought them together. Our first show of solidarity was proved when India got the 2010 Commonwealth Games against a strong bid from Canada.
How many countries supported the Indian bid for the Commonwealth Games? Are you so sure of their support for the 2016 Olympics bid?
Asian and African countries came together on the same platform and voted in favour of New Delhi as the venue of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. We got the Games by a convincing margin of 46 to 22. The Canadians were themselves surprised. If the solidarity of Asia and Africa could work in this case then why can't it work in the Olympic Games bid as well. We have made great contacts with over 150 countries out of the 200 nations on the Olympic committee. That is why we have set our eyes on staging the 2016 Olympic Games. China have bagged the 2008 Games; London, Paris and New York are battling for the 2012 Games. South Africa wants to stage the 2020 Games. Hence we decided to put in our bid for the 2016 Olympic Games.
How much will the Games cost India?
The Olympic Games are funded by the International Olympic Committee. Hence, the cost of staging the Games will not be as huge as some people expect. The infrastructure will be ready by 2010 for the Commonwealth Games. We will have to add an Olympic village and a few other facilities. When the Olympic Games evaluation team comes to India they will see all the preparation for the Commonwealth Games. We have a strong bid and I am hopeful that we should be able to bid successfully.
Is it true we got the Commonwealth Games because we agreed to pay more money to the participating nations than offered by Canada?
This is false propaganda being spread in the media by some vested interests. Canada had offered to pay $80 million to the participating nations -- and this is in writing with us -- whereas we offered $7.2 million; all that we could afford. So we did not get the Commonwealth Games because we offered more money, but because New Delhi won on merit, and because of Asian-African solidarity.
Is it true that Prime Minister Vajpayee offered you full support for the bid?
Of course! Without Prime Minister Vajpayee's support it would not have been possible. Before going for the bid I had met Vajpayeeji and told him about New Delhi's bid for the Commonwealth Games and he told me we could go ahead with the bid. In fact he gave us a blank cheque saying no matter what the cost India should get the Commonwealth Games.
Normally Indian bureaucrats go for such occasions but you took some sportspersons along with you as part of the delegation.
Yes, this was a departure from the past. Raja Randhir Singh, who is the secretary general of the Indian Olympic Association, is an eminent shooter himself. He was part of the Indian team. Then, we had former India cricket captain Sunil Gavaskar and shooter Anjali Bhagwat as part of the delegation.
How much will staging the Commonwealth Games cost?
We have calculated that we will be spending about Rs 1,600 crores [Rs 16 billion] on staging the Games. But we will get lot of sponsors to bring down the costs. Staging of the Games is no longer a loss-making venture. That is why so many countries want to host the Games. The money will be spent mainly on the infrastructure. The Delhi government is already taking care of that. Flyovers and hotels will be a permanent investment for Delhi.
What about the cost of staging the Olympic Games? If China is spending Rs 8,000 crores [Rs 80 billion] for the 2008 Games then how much will India spend to stage the 2016 Games?
We will make double the money that we will spend. It is a win-win situation for the host country.
What about preparations for the Athens Olympics?
Our preparations are going on in full swing and we hope to win a sizeable number of medals. We have a good chance of winning medals in shooting, with Anjali Bhagwat and Abhinav Bindra going great guns. In athletics, we expect Anju George to get a medal. We have qualified in a number of other disciplines, including archery, wrestling, boxing and weightlifting. This time the Indian contingent will return home with some medals. I can assure you that.
Design: Uttam Ghosh