'Risk factor huge at big sports event'
Global sports events like next month's Commonwealth Games will always face last-minute problems but it is the way organisers deal with them that will make or break them, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Saturday.
Indian organisers of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi are feeling the strain following a barrage of negative publicity as problems at the athletes' village, as well as a bridge collapse and a suspected militant attack on two foreign visitors, have thrown the October 3-14 Games into crisis.
"You always have two kinds of risk at big sports events," said the IOC's Executive Director for Olympic Games Gilbert Felli. "You have operational risk, that is the risk of not being able to deliver (some venues), and you have reputation risk."
Image: Labourers work inside the Major Dhyan Chand National hockey stadium
CWG have become major embarrassment for India
Felli, who is the IOC's pointman for Olympic host cities to help them through two years of bidding and seven years of preparations, said while operational risk seems the more important one, safeguarding the city's reputation was equally vital for the success of the Games.
India had hoped to use the Games to display its growing global economic and political influence, rivalling China which put on a spectacular 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
Instead, they have become a major embarrassment for the world's largest democracy where infrastructure projects have remained slow-paced and a drag on economic growth.
Image: Labourers pull a handcart loaded with bricks and sand in front of boards advertising the Commonwealth Games
India didn't begin preparations till two years ago
"Reputation risk... can feel everybody is shooting at the same person. Suddenly just a very small percentage of the overall work could ruin the event," Felli said.
"(For Olympics) we set up and train a crisis management team for three years before (the event). That means a structure between the organising committee and the IOC. You have a body ready to respond when we realise a risk can come."
The Commonwealth Games, held every four years for mostly former British colonies, are said to have cost $6 billion.
India was awarded them in 2003 but did not begin proper preparations until two years ago.
Image: Workers climb down the roof of the weightlifting venue for the Commonwealth Games. A portion of the false ceiling at the venue caved in on Wednesday
'We make sure the reputation of the city and country is protected'
There is no better proof of the effectiveness of this crisis group than this year's Vancouver winter Olympics where a death of a luge athlete hours before the Games opened, a lack of snow, scrapping of standing areas and several other problems threatened to tip them into chaos.
Organisers managed to handle the crisis in an effective way as media were quickly dubbing the Vancouver Olympics "the worst Games ever."
"The result of the Games in Vancouver was an excellent result," said Felli.
"We make sure the reputation of the city and the country is protected, that every risk is being identified and handled with a true response, not just say 'everything is fine', explain to the people and give them confidence that it is working," said Felli.
Image: The collapsed footbridge outside the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, one of the venues for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi
'Lot of damage has been done to India as a country'
"Like Vancouver.... through our crisis management team we succeeded first of all in the relationship with the athlete's family, the opening ceremony, the start of the competition, how we respect the athlete and go into the Games."
For Delhi, any crisis action may be coming a bit too late, according to organisers.
"A lot of damage has been done to India as a country," the Commonwealth Games Federation chief Michael Fennell admitted on Saturday.
Image: A crane removes waste from a collapsed pedestrian bridge outside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi