A billboard depicting US President Donald Trump with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad, India. Picture: AFP/SAM PANTHAKY
A billboard depicting US President Donald Trump with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad, India. Picture: AFP/SAM PANTHAKY

New Delhi — US President Donald Trump will open the world’s biggest cricket stadium in India next week, but critics wonder whether it’s just another vanity project by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his home state.

Trump, not known as a cricket aficionado and on his first visit to India, will inaugurate the 110,000-seat Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad on Monday, a grandiose occasion that has drawn further attention to the western state of Gujarat.

The $100m, perfectly round venue, with seats in the blue and saffron of the Indian team, promises unobstructed views from every angle and has facilities that include four dressing rooms and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

It eclipses the 100,000-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground, the venerable venue that dates back to 1853 and has hosted the greats of the sport through the generations, from Donald Bradman to Ian Botham and India’s own Sachin Tendulkar.

The new stadium is not the first record-breaking monument to independence hero Sardar Patel to be unveiled in Gujarat, Modi’s home state where he was chief minister until 2014.

Patel is immortalised by the world’s biggest statue, the enormous Statue of Unity which was completed in 2018 and measures 182m — twice the height of the Statue of Liberty.

Trump will also follow China’s Xi Jinping, Japan’s Abe Shinzo and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel as just the latest head of state to visit Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s biggest city, since Modi took office in 2014.

‘Modi’s dream’

Revamping the former Motera stadium was a pet project for Modi dating back to his time as president of the Gujarat Cricket Association, which is now led by India’s home minister Amit Shah.

“It was a dream of Amit Shah and Modi-ji to build the biggest cricket stadium,” a senior Gujarat Cricket Association official, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP. “Now that we have the world’s biggest cricket stadium, I am sure the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) will set aside big matches including Indian Premier League (IPL) games.”

Shah’s son Jay Shah is the secretary of the BCCI, the world’s richest cricket board and the sport’s financial powerhouse, due to India’s huge cricket market. Although cricket enjoys huge popularity in the country of 1.3-billion, sceptics point out that India already has more than a dozen stadiums capable of holding international matches.

Test matches, cricket’s five-day format, also struggle to attract large crowds in India.

“We have seen with infrastructure, that you build it [and] it kind of becomes a white elephant and it’s not used as much as it should be,” veteran sports writer Ayaz Memon said. “Maybe they have done some research to find out what is the optimum number of people who will come there. But a [100,000]-plus spectator venue is fairly substantial.”

Acknowledging concerns that the stadium would be under-used, the Gujarat Cricket Association official said Modi has made sure it offers facilities for other sports. A refurbished ground next to the stadium — which is on the site of the former 49,000-capacity Motera Stadium, built in 1982 — will serve as an all-sports venue for cricket, football and hockey.

Sports grounds in India are also often used for cultural and political events during off-seasons.

But observers questioned the need for another big stadium in India. Sanjay Jha, a spokesperson for the opposition Congress party, said the BCCI’s rotation policy for match venues means the stadium is “likely to see gross underutilisation ... It appears to be another white elephant funded using taxpayers’ money.” 

AFP