Saturday, September 25, 2010

Delhi Games Organisers Convince the Commonwealth They Can Deliver

The 19th Commonwealth Games look set to begin as planned, but only after Delhi, and India gets the message that so far it has not been good enough.

On 4 October 2010 the Opening Ceremony of the Delhi Commonwealth Games takes place at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Athletes have begun arriving, nervous about what they will find but determined to attend and compete at the much maligned sporting occasion.

The lead-up to the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games has been nothing short of bizarre, with officials in denial about the true state of progress for months. Combine that with the health risks associated with visiting this part of the world and real security concerns, and some competitors selected to represent their countries have declined the invitation to participate. Personal decisions have been made to which no criticism has been attached.
Athletes are Arriving in Delhi

For the sportsmen and women from around the Commonwealth satisfied that the competition and the honour of participating in the Games outweighs the discomforts and potentially more serious issues they may encounter, the final countdown is on. Their very attendance has come only after crisis meetings around the Commonwealth amid real fears that leading countries would withdraw their whole teams. That has not eventuated, but the credibilty of the Commonwealth Games as a viable sporting occasion, and of India as an organiser of a major world event, is on the line.

Publicity around sanitation and the general of the athletes’ village has left noboby in doubt about what concerns participants and team officials. As members of the England hockey and lawn bowls teams were welcomed as the first overseas contingent on 24 September, other nations were delaying departure for India. A fully justified decision according to all reports on the condition of the athlete accommodation.
Delhi Games Village Still Needs Work

On 25 September the Telegraph reported that only one of the three residential towers assigned to England's 560-strong team is ready for the first arrivals. England chef de mission Craig Hunter was reported as saying that “repairs” were needed to make the other towers habitable, and “the work would have to continue well beyond the start of the Games next Sunday. “

In confirming New Zealand’s attendance at the Commonwealth Games, the NZ Olympic Committee has decreed that athletes must remain within a tightly controlled security "bubble" in Delhi. That means all they will see is “the troubled village, the Games venues and the transport routes between the village and the venues, “ reports the NZ Herald on 25 September.

The Herald report revealed that earlier inspections were restricted by Delhi organisers and quite misleading, with NZ Chef de mission Dave Currie’s earlier positive reports based on his inspection of “the equivalent of a show home”. Currie’s comments were supported by NZOC secretary-general Barry Maister, who contended that officials from all countries sent to report on conditions were denied access to areas of the village.
Cultural Differences and Games Preparations

Amid the uproar over the inadequate preparations for the Delhi Games comes the issue of cultural differences. Indian officials continue to assure the Commonwealth that despite appearances everything will be ‘all right on the night”. India refused to accept outside advice and support for hosting the Games, insisting that they would prepare for and deliver the Games their way. But what they did not take account of was the way other cultures construct their own views of reality.

When CWG Organising Committee Secretary General Lalit Bhanot suggested that India should not be ashamed of the unhygienic facilities because “it was just a matter of difference in perception of cleanliness,’ he clearly went too far. Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennell's resonse was quick. "That was unacceptable. Hygiene has no nationality. It's same all over the world," Fennell was quoted by Times of India in an article on 25 September.
Let the Games Begin

On 26 September the Sydney Morning Herald reported Fennell as acknowledging the effort organisers were now making to deal with the problems that have beset the Delhi games. But he repeated concerns. "The work left to be done is quite extensive," Fennell said after touring the athletes' village.

When India won the right to host the Commonwealth Games in 2003, the cost was put at less than $100 million. Estimates now range $3 billion to more than $10 billion according to the NZ Herald. That means big problems for India now and into the future as result of its approach to delivering the event. The whole experience also raises the issue – can the Games survive in their present form? A lot depends on what unfolds in Delhi during the coming weeks.

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