Dreaming of the FIFA World Cup in India, not the Olympics

(Sept 23, 2010) Obligatory Update re: Commonwealth Games: It’s already begun, and starting next week, the volume will get louder. The international press is feasting on India’s inability to prepare for its biggest and first international sporting event, The Commonwealth Games. Jokes aside about how India would want to host games where the titles invoke colonialism, I’m actually surprised that citizens and commentators are surprised at what a debacle this is turning into. In fact, we should have expected this all along. While people in and outside of India will relay facts from these games (just do a Google search), the real reason folks outside of India will groan on about how embarrassing this is is because it’s loosely the result of all the spin and marketing coming out of India about India. I want to be clear, India is an incredible country and I love going there and doing business there. But the campaigns pushed by the government to soften the realities for overseas investors actually did the country a long-term disservice, and that disservice is being borne out by all the media outlets calling into question these claims. My prediction: This will be a big embarrassment and call into question India’s ability — today, or in the near future — to be a true economic superpower.


Short explanation: The Olympics are great (sort of, I guess), but I hope India doesn’t try to bid to host them, and if they ever tried this century, the bid would fail anyway. Much better idea to focus on FIFA, which they have a shot at landing in the future.

Medium explanation: I do believe that, well after my lifetime, India will at least host the World Cup. Maybe not the Olympics, which requires much more infrastructure. I’m biased because the World Cup is my absolute favorite sporting event, and I would love to see it in India. I can already imagine loads of visitors taking the famed Indian Railways around Rajastan and Tamil Nadu to check out their favorite teams. Indian citizens and fans would go mad. Time would stop, like for cricket matches. It’s a beautiful dream of the beautiful game. (They have to build a soccer team, first, though!)

Longer explanation: In order for a country to win the Olympics, that country needs to spend billions of dollars on sport infrastructure, security, politicking, and marketing. For countries that have bet the bank against this false hope (see: Greece, outer Barcelona), the morning after is a sad reality. I used to live in Barcelona and went to the Olympic Village in the first week. Didn’t see one soul. At all. Just a bunch of infrastructure. Realistically, India cannot, in this century, make a credible case to host the Olympics. Though it is making a valiant attempt to host this fall’s Commonwealth Games, the fields and pools required for Olympic-caliber competition wouldn’t be politically digestible in India.

Unlike China, who could reserve the Games to a few cities, institute more Marshall Law, and push out homeless folk and restrict journalists, India (thankfully cannot). Therefore, my argument is that this is a blessing in disguise – rather than lament about when the Olympics will come to India, instead focus on a better international event — The FIFA World Cup — and pick 7-8 cities to focus on adapting/building cricket stadiums that can be converted within two days time to a soccer field. Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Pondicherry, Bangalore, Kerala, Kolkata.  Fans from other countries could enjoy overnight trains and tiffins between cities. They would see that there are more than 27 Indias within India. They could experience the joy of receiving help from a stranger in the middle of nowhere. And, they could root against the United Kingdom 🙂