National Games 2022 and COVID-19 Pandemic: Are we ready?

National Games 2022 and COVID-19 Pandemic: Are we ready?

SHILLONG | JULY 27, 2020: 

The 39th National Games 2022 would have proven to be one of the most high-profile sporting events Meghalaya would have hosted. Set to be held at Shillong and Tura as the state celebrates the Golden Jubilee of its Statehood, the event is expected to be a huge boost to the sporting spirit in the state. 

Furthermore, competition venues for various sports have been finalized in consultation with the several sports associations and the Meghalaya State Olympic Association. The total tentative budget set for the same has been estimated at a whopping Rs. 1500 crore, with funds to be collected from the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, Union Ministry of Development of Northeastern Region (DoNER) and North Eastern Council. Further, private investments are also expected

Besides major renovations, massive infrastructure building has been foreseen by the state government. In November 2019, Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma revealed the finalization of the details of the Athletes' Village in Umsawli for the 2022 games and with that – set in motion, an optimistic countdown.

But where do we stand now? As of July 2020?

The novel coronavirus has changed the world and the way that all of us plan our near futures– even the way the state has to chart out its own future. At the beginning of April 2020, we, as citizens of the state of Meghalaya, were relatively at ease. We were protected with the knowledge that we were still untouched by the virus. Yet even then, things had changed at the ground level. With the national lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there had been increasing pressure on all citizens, especially those from a lower socio-economic background. The Government of Meghalaya has had to respond both in terms of public policy (such as through special assistance schemes) and also in terms of ensuring the upliftment of the spirit of its citizens. Yet, just a day after #MeghalayaPrays (an innovative CM led initiative to celebrate Easter even as the state prays together in a response to the pandemic), the state was shaken by its first COVID positive case. 

As of July 26th, 721 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported in the state with 173 recoveries and five deaths. Thousands have gone through quarantine while more people continue to be screened and tested.

This new pressure on the state machinery as we respond to a pandemic the whole world is struggling has also led to many unforeseen circumstances and fumbled plans. Among these– the planning of the National Games 2022 has taken a hit. Preparations to host the games, including training and tutelage, have been put on hold. With this, the Working President of the Meghalaya State Olympic Association (MSOA), John F Kharshiing has expressed the need to postpone the National Games 2022. Citing the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he appealed for reconsideration regarding the National Games as well. To this, one may wonder why postpone it even with close to two years still left?

Here, we must note that questions around postponement of the 39th National Games had even come up before the onset of the pandemic crisis. Media sources began to speculate a possible postponement by citing the slow progress of works for infrastructural overhaul needed for the state to host the games. Similarly, the Indian Olympic Association Website suggests that the 39th National Games to be held in Meghalaya will be held in 2023. To a query in January this year, IOA's Coordination and Games Technical Conduct Committee Chairman, Raj Kumar Sacheti expressed confidence that the National Games in Meghalaya would take place in October- November 2022.

Unfortunately, the situation at the beginning of the year 2020 and today, at the threshold marking half a year, we are left in uncertain times. Is it enough that there was confidence in January? Perhaps not. With the Government's sole priority being public health and wellbeing, later considerations such as the National Games must indeed take a backseat. Where there are massive projects left undone in terms of infrastructure development to sports promotion in the state, we must also take a step backward in planning.

What is clear is that while this cannot be a priority right now, we must not let the opportunity slip from our hands either. The postponement has to have an answer. Why? The creation of the stadia and games village; the renovation of old venues, development of better road network as well as improvements to the Umroi airport will act as important catalysts to the re-launching of normal life in Meghalaya as and when the time comes. With this, several hundreds and maybe thousands will be employed on different works apart from the opportunities that will await those in media, advertising and especially, business. Most importantly, this will be an incredible platform for Meghalaya's sporting talent.

However, it is important to note that this can only happen when the COVID situation is seemingly under control. An event as large in scale, specifically a sporting event, would be impossible to handle with the virus threat still potent. As Meghalaya waits for a decision on this, it must also wait out the pandemic and in this; choose the best possible policy solutions for the crisis. Bigger decisions await and even harder questions arise.

(Bethamehi is currently pursuing her Master's in Public Policy at the National Law School of India, Bangalore. Her areas of interest include gender, social impact, traditional knowledge building and regulatory governance. She is also currently associated with the Dellimai Warnongbri Foundation as a Research Analyst.)

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