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In my previous post, I said the athletics event at the Commonwealth Games would be hampered by top athletes’ absence, some from injury, some from more spurious reasons.
Since posting that the problems the Games have experienced have taken a turn for the worse with part of a ceiling at one venue falling down, and a footbridge collapsing.
The athletes’ accommodation in the Games village is apparently unhygienic according to some visiting team officials. Scotland and Canada have delayed the departures to Delhi of the first group of athletes while England is warning it’s team could still withdraw if safety and heath concerns are not addressed immediately. New Zealand is making a final decision on its participation very soon.
Some people might counter this by saying they’re being too fussy and that in India you have to expect there won’t be the same standards as in the west.
It could end up looking like 1986 in Edinburgh when most of the African, Caribbean and Asian countries boycotted the event over the lenient stance of the British PM, Margaret Thatcher, toward apartheid South Africa.
Games organisers insist everything will be ready in time but with just over a week to go, as I write, they are battling against time given there seems to be a lot to do to complete the accommodation and venues.
Against this backdrop of uncertainty several more athletes have decided to pull out, including three top Kenyans, and two English runners Lisa Dobriskey and Christine Ohuruogu, who I read previously had already made up her mind not to go due to a lack of fitness.
Two more, Australia’s Dani Samuels, and England’s Phillips Idowu, have been straight and said they are concerned about safety. I admire their honesty in not giving an injury excuse but are they making the right decision? Samuels, a world discus champion said in a statement she did not want her decision to lead to other Aussies pulling out but she isn’t exactly showing the best example and her decision will surely lead to more withdrawals from the team.
Dame Kelly Holmes has expressed concerns about the condition of the venues but has also said that, at the 2004 Olympic Games, at which she won two gold medals, trees were still being planted on the opening day. There may have been a rush on then to get everything prim and proper but no-one recalls that and the Athens games are considered a success story.
New Delhi has more pressing concerns than trees and at this rate terrorists need not target the Games, the organisers and the Government are doing a perfectly good job of making it look like a farce on their own!
No matter what happens it was right for the Commonwealth Games Federation to award the event to India – when it did there was less political problems than there is now. It is important to move the Games out of its’ western strongholds and give developing nations a chance to prove they can host such events.
If it turns out this Games is a disaster, invaluable lessons will be learned for India, other aspiring Games hosts and the Federation itself.

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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.

Explosion

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.

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