If further proof was needed that the Commonwealth Games really is a farcical competition, the uproar of the last few days should provide just that. While the absence of sporting superpowers China and USA lends itself to New Zealand success, the reality is the Games are just the poor man’s version of the Olympics. The outcry at the lack of preparedness of Delhi threatens to derail and embarrass the nation before a race is run or a shot is put.
Delhi won the rights to host the Games in November 2003. With seven years to plan and prepare, one would hope that the simple matters of player accommodation would be ready to roll. New Zealand’s delegation has already expressed its dismay at the substandard hygiene of lodgings that await the athletes. Commonwealth Games chief Mike Fennell noted that they “expected a clean environment for the athletes to prepare”. Lalit Bhanon, organising committee spokesman for the Games, argued that “foreigners have different standards of cleanliness”. Fair enough. But you had seven years, Bhanon!
Aside from major health risks, there are additional fears about safety and security. On Sunday, two Taiwanese tourists were shot in the host city. A car bomb has luckily left no-one injured. Beyond the cleanliness, there are the basic ‘necessities’ of plumbing, furnishing, and mobile telephone coverage that need to be addressed. The collapse of a bridge near a Games venue has also added to the concerns of participating countries; England has had top athletes withdraw, with more threatening to pull out. The attempts that have been made to ‘improve’ the city’s image have not gone without notice. A Delhi slum, home to over 2,000 people, was razed to the ground following the construction of the Leela Palace Kempinski hotel, which lies just metres from the squatter settlement. Residents are now homeless and hopeless.
Boycotts are nothing new to international sporting competitions. However, the refusal of athletes to participate at the Commonwealth Games casts doubt on the tournament’s legitimacy, reputation, and value. World discus champion Dani Samuels has withdrawn from the Australian team, citing safety concerns. Gold was not worth risking her life for, she explained. The athletes are there to compete, admittedly, not for a luxury holiday. But the off-field sideshows could be too much of a distraction for the sports men and women.