Why it’s right to cancel the Commonwealth Games

Posted on September 22, 2010


Indian blogger Amreekandesi has a “vociferous and boisterous” (and not entirely serious) defence of India’s preparation for the Commonwealth Games, now just 11 days away. His open letter from India to Mike Hooper, head of the Commonwealth Games Federation Chief Executive, is potent and powerful, but it shows the way that India seems to have decided that having international-standard athletes from 50+ countries converging on your country isn’t that big a deal.

You sleep where we put you. You eat what we feed you. No we-are-from-a-developed-country crap there. But you are behaving like that NRI who visits his family in India and then complains about the coir mattresses and power cuts.

It takes a contrarian view in the aim of comedy, but weirdly echoes what a lot of the organisers have said in all seriousness. All in all that’s a fairly strident way to treat an athletic event that is likely to bolster your economy, and not at all in-keeping with the aim of India’s running of the games: to step up to the international stage as a major player.

It’s difficult to sympathise with a country that says “we’ve been given this tremendous opportunity and responsibility, and we might not be doing it brilliantly but you’ll have to put up with it.” If you walk the walk, you have to talk the talk, and injuries from collapsing pedestrian bridges (shrugged off by authorities saying that it’s okay because “athletes wouldn’t be using that bridge, spectators would” (?!)), caved-in roofs and pits of stagnant water drawing swarms of mosquitos don’t indicate that India is ready to put on a world-renowned show.

By the same token, it’s difficult to be seen as too critical of India without people thinking that there’s some horrible colonial overtone to it. We are, after all, talking about the Commonwealth Games, which started out life as a way for the Queen’s dominions and empire to come together under a common sense of understanding (understanding that they were under thrall to Britain, and if they didn’t like it, tough).

But you have to meet the common standards halfway. Organisers and spokesmen have said that the cesspits and standing water, the faeces and rubbish in the athletes’ village are fine, and that they’re actually of a standard of hygeine that they’re used to. It’s ludicrous to try and defend a practice which 99% of the world’s population would deem unhygeinic simply because it’s what you’re used to. It’s not just the British teams that feel this way – the supposed nitpicking isn’t part of an imperial throwback, an attempt to keep down the former colony. Australia and New Zealand have thrown out some of the strongest criticism, and they were never in charge of India.

The reason why people are worried is because it’s not normal to earn the right to run the Commonwealth Games then wait several years to begin building the infrastructure; it’s not normal to have half-finished sites just over a week before the competition begins. It’s not normal to shrug it off, and it’s unlikely that it’ll all be sorted.

The reason people are uncertain that the Games should go ahead in India is because people have been hurt, and buildings have collapsed. If that happens in the competition – it doesn’t matter if it’s an Indian athlete, an English athlete, a Scottish athlete or any other athlete – then that’s a life endangered. And that’s not how you run things.

‘Come out and play’ reads the slogan of the Indian Commonwealth Games. Not if people can get hurt, we won’t.

What do you think? Should the Games go ahead? Let me know in the comments below.

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