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Last hour games September 27, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

In an almost perfectly scripted but horrible denouement the Delhi Commonwealth Games have now been hit by a controversy over the state of the athletes’ village, the collapse of a footbridge at the main stadium, and an outbreak of dengue fever. The combination has seen some individual athletes decide to miss the event, and some entire countries are still considering their options. At one point prominent teams from Commonwealth members like Scotland and New Zealand seemed poised not to attend. However, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stepped in to seemingly exercise authority, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit turned up personally to supervise the village clean up and Suresh Kalmadi, everybody’s favourite bad guy as Chair of the Organising Committee, has assumed responsibility for all the problems.

The Games will proceed but almost certainly with problems and some of them may be serious. The accommodation issue has been especially damaging because it has somehow captured the deep-seated cultural divisions that lurk just underneath the Games veneer. When officials from New Zealand and elsewhere pre-inspected the site before the arrival of their athletes, they immediately went public with how “filthy” it all was and declared their people could not live there.  The kneejerk OC response was that standards differed between India and those countries and that most arrivals would find the accommodation acceptable. That was both right, and wrong – the former as a statement of the obvious, the latter as a clear evasion of a problem that should have been prevented.

CWG Federation chair Mike Fennell has said the Games will proceed, but that India has suffered a huge blow to its reputation given all the problems that have emerged. That was more sensitive than Australian Olympic boss John Coates’ astonishing declaration that the Games should never have been awarded to Delhi, and that the city still had the Games only because the CWGF’s understaffing and underfunding prevented it from exercising full control. Had it been the Olympics, he said, Delhi would have forfeited the right to stage the Games long ago.

Unfortunately, the Coates’ comment, in line with his normal arguments in which money always seems to provide the starting point, reveals the real thinking that exists inside a lot of international sports circles and also Australian ones about India and what might be called the “non-regular” Commonwealth members – a neo-colonialist assumption that places like India cannot organise anything. It is not that long ago, for example, that Greg Chappell’s stormy tenure as India’s cricket coach failed essentially on the grounds of an intercultural breakdown.  The Chappell view was similar to that now pronounced by Coates – India thinks and acts differently from us and that, by definition, is not acceptable. (more…)