As we await the start of another great carnival of sport, uneasily suppressing our reservations about the possible benefits – or the lack thereof – to the great majority of the South African people from the 2010 World Cup, news arrives of a disturbing report into the next such event, also taking place in a corner of the former British Empire where the desperately poor vastly outnumber even the modestly affluent.
The Commonwealth Games, which begin in Delhi on 3 October, are already surrounded by concerns over security. Far more worrying than the possible threat to a few thousand privileged visiting foreigners, however, is a new report by the Housing and Land Network, an arm of the global movement Habitat International Coalition, suggesting that by the time the Games begin about 140,000 families will have been evicted from their homes to clear the space for the lavish facilities now compulsory for such events.
For 100,000 of those families, it is already too late. They have been moved out of their shanty towns and "resettled", a word which has a deceptively comforting sound. Usually the policy`s victims find themselves relocated to distant places where the prospects of work are even more remote and there are no schools for their children. It is anticipated that a further 40,000 families will soon share this experience in order to allow athletes to demonstrate their prowess and commercial sponsors to advertise their wares to a worldwide audience.
Miloon Kothari, a former United Nations human rights expert, wrote the report and also discovered that "tens of millions of dollars" originally intended to fight poverty in Delhi have instead been used to fund the Games, whose budget is now around 20 times its original estimate, making the fourfold rise in the London 2012 budget seem almost like good housekeeping.
Back in January it was suggested by Kothari that the Indian government needed to be held accountable for "persistent human rights violations against the homeless" and "a clear violation of [its] commitments under constitutional and international law" to provide for its poor. Now the opportunity to present Delhi as a "world city" and to make money for those with their fingers in the pie appears to be taking precedence over such commitments, as it seems to have done in South Africa, where the "people`s game" will be out of the reach of all but a tiny minority of the actual people.
Corruption and the immoral misallocation of resources are more easily spotted in developing countries, partly because that is what we expect to find. In the developed world we are less blatant in our venality – not least because of our inquisitive media. When we pander to sponsors` needs, whether they be soft-drinks manufacturers or television networks, the collateral damage is less obvious. But it is still present in the skewing of priorities and the tacit expectation that a good party will make people forget the problems undermining their society, such as the ever-widening gap between rich and poor.