The Commonwealth Games in New Delhi next month will be a spectacular festival of sport, togetherness, colour, enthusiasm, South Asian culture and hopefully, peace, although there are clear signs it could be targeted by armed groups.
Despite the negativity surrounding the games, which is partly valid given the fears of venues being ready on time; alleged, or assumed corruption and security fears, I’m confident it will be a successful games and prove that it was right to take the Games out of its western strongholds and take it to Asia, and to the developing world.
But I only have one fear, and that is of the quality of blue ribbon code, athletics.
This appears to be the one sport most affected by the timing of the event, as the athletics season generally wound up in September following the World Athletics Final and the Continental Cup.
Tired limbs and injuries picked up during the season has ruled out many athletes intending to come. But there is, alas, an alarming number of athletes who clearly don’t care about this event, and had no intention whatsoever of turning up and representing their country.
Which is shocking given that most competing nations, such as Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Bahamas, and many of the African countries, are too small to make an impact at the Olympics or World Championships, where the Europeans, Ethiopians and the Americans are very strong.
If you were to look at the Commonwealth rankings, in many events, particularly the sprints, there are few or even none of the top 10 competing in India. So, there’s no Usain Bolt or Asafa Powell in the 100m, no Christine Ohuruogu in the 400, Mo Farah in the long-distance events or David Rudisha in the 800. For some, such as Ohuruogu, a lack of fitness is the problem while many of her fellow elite British athletes, such as Farah and Jessica Ennis, peaked for the European Championships in August and the Commonwealth Games is a step too far, as they prepare for the 2011 season, which can start in a few months with the indoor campaign and, ultimately, the Olympic Games in London the following year.
But, we also have to look at the nature of the Games and it’s stature in the modern athletics arena. The governing body, the IAAF, has diluted the impact of the major events by having the World Championships held every two years instead of four, introducing new events and making others annual showcases. Athletes now have more distractions with the lucrative Diamond League and, with more money – and four-carat diamonds for overall winners – available for supposed amateurs, the incentive of running, literally, for dollars, is immense.
The recession has affected some nations’ plans to send a bigger squad than they may have intended but you also have to wonder about the selection policy of some athletics associations. Australia, the first country to name it’s squad, has omitted middle-distance runner Craig Mottram who wasn’t fit enough during the selection period, but is now in top form. With 2006 champion John Steffensen spitting the dummy and pulling out and other athletes also withdrawing due to injury, Australia should now be padding it’s squad with its absolute best.
For all that, the Games promise to be an explosion of top-quality competition. While the sprints and some other events will be missing many of the sport’s superstars, it’s likely that the field events, walks, and multi-discipline events will possess most of the top ten in the Commonwealth rankings. Kenya is providing many of its stars in the middle distance events and there are big names such as Sally McLellan (110H), Phillips Idowu (TJ), Steve Hooker (PV) and the women’s 800m promises to be one of the best medal hunts in all sports in India, with world champion Caster Semenya up against three very good Kenyans led by world number 2 Janeth Kepkosgei, and the Jamaican Kenia Sinclair.
There will be stars of the future winning their first major medals and the large Indian side will make an impact, perhaps not with a huge haul of medals, but by creating a boiling atmosphere inside Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and the inevitable improved performances that competing in front of a home crowd brings. Meanwhile, in swimming, many Olympic medallists will be competing and the strength of the Australian, English and Canadian teams will ensure many records are broken, possibly some new world marks set. Cycling will feature some very good Australians and Brits though some British riders such as Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton won’t be there to focus on the European Championships, which are being held about the same time. The rugby sevens features some All Blacks and other international stars and has, effectively, all the best sevens nations apart from Fiji, which is suspended from the Commonwealth, while in netball, all the best world teams are members of the Commonwealth. Gymnastics, shooting, archery and bowls will have their share of big names in their respective sports, though I could care little about these. As for tennis, only a handful of top players come from Commonwealth countries and they’re unlikely to even turn up.
Do the Commonwealth Games, which was once called the British Empire Games, and is restricted to just 72 nations and dependencies, still matter? Of course. They are often termed the Friendly Games are without the arch-competitiveness of the Olympics. A former top sprinter Obadele Thompson said, after taking a bronze, that for countries like his – Barbados – each medal was precious while for those in the UK, there is a pride of competing under the Scottish, Welsh, English, Northern Irish, Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man flag that is denied to most of their athletes in the other major championships.
So, people of Delhi and India, let’s show us what you got and prove to the world that this extravaganza doesn’t have to be held in Manchester, Glasgow or Melbourne every four years.
BTW, I know this is not a music-related subject but permit me the odd foray into sports.