Friday, 24 September 2010

Commonwealth Games Farce

All eyes will be on India in the coming weeks

This week revealed some shocking images from India as it prepares to host the nineteenth Commonwealth Games.

New Delhi plays host from the 3rd–14th October, and India 2010 has been billed as a celebration of diverse culture, traditions and heritage.

But this week’s news highlighted the difficulties facing the Indian Organising Committee as it builds up to the opening ceremony, with the footbridge collapse on Tuesday triggering a whole host of revelations.

Sky revealed a hole in the ceiling of the weightlifting hall which eventually gave way, while various media outlets have exposed the filthy state of the accommodation provided for the athletes.

Images of stained wash basins, urine-splattered bathroom floors and paw marks from wild dogs who roam around Delhi’s streets all came to light on Thursday – just hours before the first lot of English athletes were due to fly out.

Wales, having previously set a deadline of 5pm on Wednesday, seem to have been convinced by India’s efforts, and will send out their athletes tomorrow, but others are less than impressed.

Despite Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh taking control of the dire situation, the federal government have ordered the Organising Committee to hand over management of the village, the Scotland team are delaying their first party of 41.

Now William Hill is offering 5-1 odds the games will fail to go ahead as scheduled, and 2-1 that either England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland will pull out.

Big names of the athletics world have already said they will not compete, further casting doubt over the credibility of this year’s games.

Great Britain’s quadruple Olympic gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy withdrew in July, admittedly sighting a clash with the European Championships which carry Olympic qualification points.

However, Sir Chris is not the only Brit to have snubbed the games.

He has been joined by 400m’s reigning Commonwealth and Olympic Champion Christine Ohuruogu and triple jump’s World Champion and reigning Commonwealth Games Champion Phillips Idowu in the last week.

Not to mention Jamaica’s 100m sprint-sensation Usain Bolt, above, and fellow countryman and defending 100m champion Asafa Powell.

Both speed daemons have sighted niggling injuries and a preference to get into shape ahead of next year’s World Championships in South Korea as their reasons for withdrawing.

Elsewhere, Australia’s Minister for Sport Mark Arbib claimed more could follow world discus champion Dani Samuels’ tearful withdrawal over health and security worries, while Canadian officials have described the Indian officials as ‘incompromisable’.

All in all, it has probably been the worst build-up to a games in recent history, if not of all time.

But how has it been allowed to get to this calamitous stage?

Seven years ago, The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), chose India as its nation to host the quadrennial event.

Few could blame them.

India, the second most populous country with over 1.18 billion people, has a wealth of commercial and cultural heritage.

It has as diverse a culture as you can imagine, founding four of the world’s major religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism – while Judaism, Christianity and Islam joined during the first millennium CE.

Add to this one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, The Taj Mahal (pictured), and fellow UNESCO World Heritage Site The Mahabodhi Temple, and none can argue India lays host to some of the world’s finest beauty spots.

Responsible for the direction and control of the games, the federation’s 71 nations all gave consent to India; therefore it is difficult to pass the buck.

However, once India was chosen, in the same way as when London was awarded the 2012 Olympics in 2005, the CGF passed all responsibility to the Indian Organising Committee.

The latter must take responsibility for this farce, but it does cast serious aspersions over the handing-over process.

With just nine days remaining, the fact they find themselves in this precarious position is laughable, and surely the CGF are ultimately responsible and must re-asses the handover process and their responsibility during the build up to the games.

It also begs the question: are the withdrawals solely due to the horrendous conditions at the time of writing, or because the Commonwealth Games are becoming devalued?

The irony is that in dismantling the British Empire, Britain was supposed to relinquish control over its former colonies.

It is now thirteen years since the handover of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China, thus giving independence to most of the Empire’s former territories, and yet the way Britain has reacted to India’s preparations does smack a little of a parent telling their child “I told you so”.

Perhaps justifiably so, as there can be no excuses for the state of the village.

But you can be sure that if was the World Championships at stake, there would not be this spate of withdrawals from the top athletes.

The star withdrawals, and the shambles in which preparations have been allowed to develop thus far, do lend to the idea the games are in decline and one lasting remnant from the Empire.

Australia's retired marathon runner Steve Moneghetti said that Indian organizers ‘have got two days to do what's probably going to take about two weeks’.

I for one hope they get it right as, at its best, India is a spectacular setting and a fitting venue for any games.

One which, potentially, could capture the hearts of even the most cynical of critics.

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