Beyond the Tagline: Goa's National Games Saga - Promise v Reality
'Goa is ready' was the tagline of the National Games 2023 but the tagline fell flat as Goa delivered a recipe of disappointment making for 12 years.
Goa: The 37th National Games ended with a glittering closing ceremony and the flag for the next edition, scheduled for 2024, was passed on to the Uttarakhand delegation.
Hosts Goa finished ninth with 92 medals, making a massive improvement from their five medals from last year, and the Games were a huge success with more than 8000 athletes turning up, social media posts would suggest.
The ground reality, however, remains very different from what is being projected.
The tagline of the Games was 'Goy assa tyar' in Konkani, which roughly translates to 'Goa is ready', but in reality, Goa was far from ready when it came to the execution of a grand event, termed as the 'Olympics of India'.
Mismanagement at the basic level
The foundation of any event of the magnitude of the National Games are volunteers. Enthusiastic college kids and sometimes aged sports lovers turn up for their love of the sports to facilitate all the athletes, delegates, spectators, and media people coming for the event.
While the enthusiasm of the volunteers was palpable, they were untrained at most of the venues. Out of nine venues visited by The Bridge, only two venues had volunteers equipped with all the information and knowledge about their roles in the Games.
No fault of their own, they had to cope with the frustration of athletes, spectators, officials, or media people. In one instance, an athlete lost his phone, but no security cameras were there to aid him, nor was there any system to recover the lost item.
On multiple occasions, volunteers were clueless about where media persons should sit and where are the mixed zones meant for interaction with athletes.
For example, at the athletics venue, the media tribune was moved 100m away from the mixed zone and the journalists would sprint with the athletes to get hold of them for a byte or an interview.
To their credit, the volunteers went out of their comfort zone to help everyone and made sure that they did their best despite a lack of resources or information with them.
The execution of the Games- Sports and Tech
After the historic performance at the 2023 Asian Games, the season ended for most of the Indian athletes but still, there was a decent turn-up at the Games with top names like Jyothi Yarraji, Shivpal Singh, Virdhawal Khade, and Srihari Nataraj taking up the field in their respective sports.
The big names garnered interest but the Indian Olympic sports community and fans were left wanting more as there was no way for them to follow the Games apart from the live streaming on DD Goa.
The website created for the National Games didn't open for the first five days and when it started opening, the medal tally was updated incorrectly every day.
The schedule section of the website didn't show anything about the events that were happening on the ground. The mismanagement of the website made it difficult for everyone to follow the Games including journalists, fans, and athletes alike.
"We have no idea what is happening there as the social media post of the results come at night and we have to solely rely on the press releases to curate copies," said one of the journalists of a national daily on condition of anonymity.
The media personnel in Goa also struggled to keep themselves acquainted with the results as there was no regular update nor any dedicated source for everyday results, sometimes results coming as late as six hours after the completion of the event.
The website still doesn't have the eligibility criteria for athletes to participate listed and the Games have ended now, demonstrating a poor precedent for the country's flagship 'Digital India' campaign.
Once we move from tech, we come to the execution of all the sports seamlessly. While the organizing committee had it covered most of the time, there were some glaring glitches.
On the third day of the athletics events, rain halted the action at the Bambolim for more than one hour and it was immediately resumed after the rain.
Athletics can be dangerous after a rainy evening as it was evident with the athletes trying to gain their momentum after a break.
National record holder of Pole Vault, Siva Subramani fell victim to the rain as his pole slipped due to water on the track in his last attempt to clear the 5.00m mark, and he was injured in the aftermath.
The organisers cited a tight schedule as the reason for the resumption of the event in dangerous conditions but the safety was compromised here.
Other glitches such as torn goalposts, malfunctioning scoreboards, and fights among teams and technical officials were frequent happenings. In one such incident, the crowd was enthralled when the Services team went all-out against the technical officials during the Water Polo final, with abuses being hurled from both sides.
An event in the making for 12 years
Goa was announced as the host of the National Games in 2011 after the conclusion of the 34th National Games in Ranchi, Jharkhand, and it took them more than 12 years to conduct the Games.
That too, the whole execution of the Games left a lot to be asked.
After so much time in hand to get things right, eight events including the likes of Wushu, Wrestling, and Judo were conducted in makeshift tents built on the campus of Campal Indoor Stadium.
"There has been no construction work done as such for National Games as old facilities were razed down and reconstructed. We still don't have a wrestling facility or a proper indoor to accommodate more than 5,000 people," one of the officials of Sports Authority of Goa told this correspondent on condition of anonymity.
One of the reasons for the Games to be postponed in 2020 was that the people in charge preferred to break and build the same infrastructure.
The spectators turned up for the Games in huge numbers as it was a free-for-all and they were curious to see what Kabaddi looks like and what wrestlers do on the mat.
"I don't think anybody will care about the Games after this is done. We don't have any consistency. It was a running joke when we said that the National Games would be conducted after our generation will be gone," said Andrew, a localite who was aged 10 when Goa was given the right to host the National Games.
"I am 22 now and working as a developer and have seen how these Games were postponed multiple times citing different reasons," he added.
Andrew is not the only one, many such people grew up hearing about the Games and when it happened, they were left asking more questions.
Such accounts of the Games do leave a big question mark about the relevance of its existence in a year when nobody cared about it apart from athletes who got a chance to show their mettle.
No public relations exercise, chest-thumping, and social media glitter can justify the poor preparation, and the lack of execution made it a royal mess. It is the worst lesson the country has learned at a time when India is vying to host the Olympics within the next 15 years.
Take a cue, improve, and stop making fools out of people in the name of the lack of resources available.