Legendary sprinter Milkha Singh has come down heavily on officials of the Commonwealth Games Federation, particularly Mike Fennell and Mike Hooper. The duo have been spewing venom and criticizing India and the Commonwealth Games organizing committee, headed by Suresh Kalmadi, for shoddy Games preparation, and vowed that the country will never get to host another major international event.
"They are our guests at best and have no right to abuse us," Milkha told rediff.com.
In an exclusive interview with Onkar Singh, the Flying Sikh, who ran the 400 meters barefooted in 45.73 seconds at the Rome Olympics in 1960, was equally harsh on Kalmadi without naming him.
What do you make out of the criticism of Mike Fennell and Mike Hooper?
They have no right to come to our country as guests and keep hurling abuses at us.
They are being unnecessarily harsh on our sports administrators and others who have been spending close to 16 to 18 hours a day to ensure the success of the Commonwealth Games.
What according to you should be the role of officials of the Commonwealth Games Federation?
In my opinion, once the job of hosting the Games was given to New Delhi, they should have left it to us instead of finding fault with construction and stadium work. They are over-shooting their role.
They say that India should never have got the opportunity to host the Games?
Whether it is Commonwealth Games, Asian Games or Olympic Games, the main aim behind hosting the Games is to encourage sport, bring about friendship between athletes and sportsmen of various countries, rather than abusing the host nation.
What would you do if you met Fennell and Hooper?
I would literally tear them apart. I am pretty blunt in such matters.
When we attended the Commonwealth Games in the late fifties most of us were put up in army barracks and other kinds of accommodation. We never created a fuss about the kind of facilities that were offered to us.
What if the athletes and officials do not like the Commonwealth Games village?
In that case they can move to good five-star hotels and pay for the accommodation. Nothing comes free my friend.
I advise the athletes or sportsmen to concentrate on training rather than finding fault with the construction work. We should also concentrate on winning medals.
The more gold medals we win at these Games the better; winning more medals will help salvage lost prestige.
Do you agree with the suggestion that five-star hotels should be given the land and asked to come up with world-class facilities?
No, I do not agree with this point of view, as this would kill the spirit of the Games. Such facilities should be created by government agencies, with better supervision, to ensure that the construction work is of quality and international standard.
Some people feel that the Games Village could have come up elsewhere rather than on the banks of the Yamuna river, which witnessed unprecedented floods this year?
There is nothing wrong in selecting such a venue. But only the construction work should have been completed in time.
Do you think people have made money and hence the poor work?
Corruption exists in other places as well, but it is limited to basic minimal, leaving large sums of money to be used for creating the village and other facilities.
But, here, they have left the basic minimum money for the infrastructure and swindled a major chunk of it. It is a matter of investigation to find out the culprits.
The Security of athletes and venues has become a major concern. Top-class arrangements have been made to protect the athletes and stadiums from a probable terrorist attack. What are your views on the security?
In Munich, in 1972, terrorists from the Middle East struck with vengeance and shot dead 17 Israeli athletes when the Germans had the best security cover at the stadiums. The incident sent shock waves through the world. The dead were moved to one side and the Games carried on.
It is not possible to provide security cover to every individual athlete who is out for shopping or sitting at eating joints of their choice and having meals.
The security aspect should not loom large on the minds of the athletes; they should concentrate only on performance.
Has the intervention by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh helped in improving the situation and salvaging India's image?
Things should not have drifted so far that would necessitate intervention of the prime minister of the country. I have never come across an event elsewhere in the world where the prime minister was forced to visit the venues to take stock of the situation.
Dr Singh has done a commendable job by taking things into his hands; he has brought about a semblance of unity amongst various agencies -- the Ministry of Sports, urban development, IOA, Delhi government -- who were bent upon passing the buck to one and another.
Will the Games be a success?
I have no doubt on that score.
Once the Games get underway the athletes and officials will concentrate on their performance rather than sit and abuse India as a host nation.