Finally, the Indian Olympic Association has green-lighted Goa’s readiness to host the National Games. So, in October-November 2023, Goa will host the games that it was originally due to host in 2011.
The host State agreement was signed in 2008. Long delays later, not all on the part of Goa but some definitely of its making, the State is ready to play its role on the national sports stage.
Just eleven months ago in April 2022, Sports Minister Govind Gaude had publicly announced that Goa was not even close to hosting the National Games. Just a few months before that, in August 2021, the then Sports Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar had claimed that the State was ready to host the Games.
That Goa was not prepared was clear, and embarrassingly the games were shifted to Gujarat which hosted the 36th edition in September-October last year.
The National Games were postponed for two reasons – one because other hosts had delayed their hosting of the event and then because Goa did not have the infrastructure ready.
It does appear that Goa woke up to the reality of embarrassment only when the games were taken away from it and given to Gujarat, as after that infrastructure completion was speeded up.
But there were other mortifications too, in some cases it was the facilities that were found to be substandard, as was the case with the astroturf that had been laid at the Mapusa Sports Complex and was initially rejected by the Indian Olympic Association officials after inspection and the State government asked to replace it.
In the meantime, upwards of Rs 450 cr has been spent on creating the infrastructure, and another Rs 150 cr set aside for hosting the games. For a State that is cash-strapped, this is a lot of money that has been spent and is earmarked to be spent on the games that only now appear on the horizon.
It is only now that there is a definite period announced for the hosting of the games.
Let’s, however, not forget that these dates are not the first slotted for the games. The period of March-April 2019 had been allotted for the games and then postponed.
Again in 2020, the games had been slotted for October-November but the pandemic restrictions led to them being called off. However, given that the infrastructure was not ready, hosting the games on those dates would have surely been impossible.
The go-ahead from the Indian Olympic Association should now put the officials in charge of hosting the games into high gear.
Just the infrastructure is not sufficient, it requires a lot more to make the games a success. Prime among these is accommodation for the athletes and the officials as Goa will not have a games village but will lodge all those who come in hotels.
As the expected number of athletes and officials runs to a few thousands – upward of 15,000 – the logistics involved are not simple.
To look at the delays through another lens, Goa has now had lots more time to prepare its athletes for the games. Or has it? Now that is a pertinent question as Goa returned from the Gujarat games last year with just five bronze medals and was placed at the 30th place.
Given that, at least theoretically, Goa has been preparing for hosting the games since 2008, it should also have been preparing athletes for the competition.
The result at the Gujarat Games should have well been a good opportunity to gauge where it stands in the national sports arena and that is at the 30th spot. Could it have been worse?
Goa has never been a major medals contender at the National Games. Let’s accept that as a fact. But as a host, can it take its performance to a higher level and climb some rungs on the ladder?
If the infrastructure is complete, then the athletes have another few months to train on the best available facilities. They also, for the first time in the history of the games, have the home advantage that they can cash upon.
Can Goa make the postponements and delays in the hosting of the games work for it on the field and return with a better medal haul?
It appears difficult to dream about a place in the top ten given that just months ago the State was at 30th place, but it can at least improve substantially.
Goa is keeping its commitment to host the games. Goans are expecting a better performance on the field. Once the games end, sportspersons in Goa will have some top-of-the-class infrastructure on which to train. So is Goa looking at a better period in the national sports field?