It is nothing short of a miracle that for nearly a fortnight, the Central and Assam governments could put aside political bickering and one-upmanship to let the 12th South Asian Games play itself out to a satisfying conclusion. Before the Games kicked off on February 5, the air was thick with accusations and counter-accusations about funds released and preparations made. There was also the initial misunderstanding over supposedly taking away the badminton event from Shillong, leading to loud protests from the Meghalaya government. Then came the scrapping of the basketball event, an ugly fallout of the tug-of-war between the intertiol basketball federation FIBA and the Indian Olympic Association. The Games organisers practically went all out only in the last three months, with security an even bigger headache than logistics. Filly, all sides got their act together to host successfully the first ever South Asian Games in this part of the country. It was also a welcome change to hear the Assam Chief Minister and the Union Sports Minister give each other some credit, but then sports should be about grace and sportsmanship. That the hosts finished with a record 308 medals haul, including 188 golds, brings out clearly the vast gulf between India and other South Asian countries. They need to push each other hard in the coming SAG editions if this region housing one-fifth of the world population, is to build up a sports culture worth the me in the not-too-distant future. As for Assam, there was the unique satisfaction of all its eight members in the Indian contingent coming away with a medal each; the contribution of the State being five golds in archery, kho kho, kabaddi and boxing, two silvers in football and one bronze in judo. It is a moot point though how many sports fans from the State actually got the chance to see them landing medals in the are.
It was painful to see large swathes of stands and galleries empty in several SAG events. Sportsmen are not just competitors running after glory, they are also performers. Their adrelin flows from the competition as well as the atmosphere and fan support. There can be no letdown bigger than performing in sparsely attended venues for players. As the Games progressed over the 12 days, it came to light that there were in fact large numbers of sports fans hunting desperately for tickets. Whether online or at the counters, there were simply no tickets available — yet many galleries were going empty. An exasperated Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had to order the Chief Secretary to institute a probe. This inquiry must get to the bottom of the matter so that sports lovers are not deprived again when tiol and intertiol events are held here. The suspicion grows strong of touts cornering large numbers of tickets before these go on sale, and then pocketing hefty amounts by selling tickets at vastly inflated rates in the black market. There were reports of Rs 10 worth tickets for the India-Pakistan hockey match selling in the black at several hundred rupees. Even tickets for the Games closing ceremony priced at Rs 100 and Rs 200 were reportedly selling for extortiote rates like Rs 2,000. Surely, such shady goings-on are not possible without the complicity of a section of organisers. Another allegation is that some political parties got hold of bulk tickets to distribute free among VIPs and supporters. Since most such recipients were not sports lovers, it is hardly surprising they did not bother to turn up at the venues to egg on the players. Much of the sports infrastructure installed for such Games depend on how serious the government is about maintence, as well as the enthusiasm built up among the people, particularly the young, after seeing good athletes in action. The Assam government let much of the sports infrastructure built at huge cost for the 2007 tiol Games, go waste subsequently. It must not repeat that mistake after holding the South Asian Games eight years later. The Games momentum must be kept up.