It is almost certain that Assam will refuse to host the South Asian Federation (SAF) Games this year. Co-host Meghalaya is willing enough, but lacks the ability to do it on its own. With the venue likely to shift to Kerala which hosted the 35th tiol Games in February last, another shrill blame game has now begun between Dispur and New Delhi. Union Sports minister Sarbanda Sonowal has said the SAF Games was awarded to Assam and Meghalaya because Prime Minister rendra Modi has given top priority to the Northeast in sports and youth welfare. With Assam having the experience of hosting the 33rd tiol Games in 2007 and Meghalaya getting the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Shillong up and running, it was expected that the two NE States will be able to co-host the event successfully. After all, a whopping Rs 260 crores had been spent to build 18 venues in Assam for the tiol Games, in which over 12,000 athletes had participated. This has prompted the Union Sports minister to question if Kerala can now be confident of hosting 2-3 thousand athletes for the SAF Games in November this year, why cannot Assam?
Ruing that the people of Assam and Meghalaya will lose the opportunity to witness overseas sportspersons perform in Guwahati and Shillong, Sonowal has ruled out postponing the event to the end of next year. This is because this 12th edition of the SAF Games should have been held in 2012 itself, but it is 3 years behind schedule because of the ban on the Indian Olympic Association by the Intertiol Olympic Committee. The ban was only revoked last year after the IOA held fresh elections. In 2007, there were allegations galore of huge cost over-runs and misappropriation of funds in building up the infrastructure for the much delayed 33rd tiol Games. But that was eight years back when the Congress-led UPA was ruling at the Centre. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi then had the confidence that the Central government would underwrite the sporting extravaganza in Assam, whatever the cost. People in Assam can still recall the glow of pride as their State made it to the third position in the medals tally behind sporting powerhouses Manipur and Services.
But Tarun Gogoi obviously lacks that confidence now, stating that his government can act as facilitator if the NDA government the Centre now takes the responsibility to organise the SAF Games. He has also claimed that there is no dearth of infrastructure to organise the event but accommodation for the players will be a problem, since the flats constructed in the Games Village in 2007 have been sold out. But reports in the media over the last few years have repeatedly highlighted how some sporting venues built with much cost for the tiol Games, have been neglected since and are slowly going to seed. The velodrome at Tepesia has developed cracks all over its roof and its cycle entry point is regularly flooded, while the Rajiv Gandhi indoor stadium at Amingaon has lost much of its roof cover and its expensive flooring has been pulled up for television shows. Much of the water sports infrastructure around Charon beel in Morigaon has disappeared. All this gives a lie to Chief Minister Gogoi’s promise after the tiol Games to keep the newly built sporting infrastructure up to the mark by timely maintence and holding sporting events regularly. When a team of IOA office-bearers visited Guwahati and Shillong in February this year, they expressed satisfaction over the infrastructure. The Assam government then reportedly sought around Rs 70 crore to renovate and create infrastructure. There was much hope and excitement in the sporting fraternity as well as among sports lovers in this region, but all that has ended in bitter disappointment now. And to add insult to injury, Chief Minister Gogoi is now alleging a ‘political conspiracy’ by the Modi government in robbing Assam of the SAF Games and handing it to Kerala!