Thursday, September 23, 2010

India's Troubled Games

Delhi is the host for this year's Commonwealth Games, and what was suppose a glorious international showcase is quickly turning into a national nightmare for India (to get a sense of feeling in India, check out this series of “man in the street” interviews by the BBC).  The Commonwealth Games, in case you're not familiar with them, are a sort of British Empire Olympics, bringing together teams from 54 nations that were once part of the Empire in a summer celebration of sport every four years.  Indian officials expected that the Commonwealth Games would serve as the same sort of global coming out party for their country as the 2008 Beijing Games were for China.

But the Delhi Games are having the opposite effect as several national teams balked over accommodations at the Athletes' Village, which some officials called “unfit for human habitation,” saying that the construction of the dormitories was poor and the sanitation facilities inadequate.  Not helping matters was the sudden collapse of a pedestrian footbridge on Tuesday, injuring 27 workers who were scrambling to get construction finished for the Games that are scheduled to start just two weeks from now, an event that underscored doubts about the overall quality of the venues for the Games.

Some Indian officials have tried to downplay the concerns of the national sport federations, Delhi's Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit  was reported in The Guardian as saying, somewhat unbelievably: “something may be dripping, some tile may collapse, doesn't mean the entire Games are bad.” Another official tried to brush off some concerns as a cultural difference over basic standards of hygiene, suggesting that the Westerners were just being too picky about the accommodations. It is an excuse that isn't playing well with the sport federations nor apparently with the Indian people either; the Hindustan Times is reporting that two-thirds of Delhi residents are saying the Games have become a source of national shame, a sentiment echoed in a front-page headline in the Times of India.  Concern over the Games has become such an issue that on Wednesday night, the BBC dedicated the first ten minutes of their international newscast to coverage of the controversy.

Several teams, including New Zealand, Australia and Scotland are seriously considering pulling their athletes out of the Delhi Games over concerns for their health and safety.  The Commonwealth Games are scheduled to kick off on October 3, how many national teams show up remains to be seen.

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