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Damp Squib In Delhi?

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With a few days to go before the start of the XIX Commonwealth Games in Delhi, all I can think about is bathrooms. Images of the insanitary facilities at the Athletes Village have been splashed all over the world’s media, as India’s very own DIY disaster unfolds. I’m not a fan of soap operas (or “continuing dramas” as they’re known in TV circles) but this compelling saga of organisational ineptitude and political points-scoring really takes some beating.

Then there’s the outbreak of schadenfreude that could prove even more dangerous to the Games than the dengue fever that’s laid low a couple of Indian cyclists. If they awarded medals for sabotaging sporting events, administrators, politicians, and reporters would have the mosquitoes beaten hands down.

Let’s be honest, paw prints and unidentified brown substances in the athletes’ quarters are the least of the problems affecting these Games. Last week a footbridge linking a car park with Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium collapsed, injuring more than 20 people. Now analysts at Control Risks have warned visitors of a heightened security threat in the rest of the country, because resources have been deployed to protect the main Games venues.

With Her Majesty the Queen otherwise engaged, does anyone really care whether these Games should be officially opened by Prince Charles, or India’s President Pratibha Devisingh Patil? Instead of squabbling about protocol, they might as well get someone to dress up like Shera, the cartoon tiger who is the official mascot for the event. According to the official website, “Shera is also a large-hearted gentleman who loves making friends and enthusing people to come out and play.” To me, he looks like a slightly more timid version of Tony, the ebullient cartoon cat who adorns cartons of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.

Surely the elephant (or the tiger) in the room here, is whether there’s still a place for these “friendly games” in an increasingly crowded sporting calendar. Watching sport in the 70s, it still felt as though the pursuit of Olympic gold was a really big deal. Now we live in an age in which World Championships in one sport or another seem to be an almost weekly occurrence. For me, the blue riband events in any Olympics have always been swimming and track and field. But since 1993, FINA (“Water is Our World”) has been holding the short course World Championships every two years, while the IAAF’s World Championships in Athletics started as a four yearly event in 1983 and are now held biennially.

By generating so much negative publicity, Delhi has neatly avoided the ignominy of being totally overlooked in favour of this weekend’s Ryder Cup clash. But when the teams are luxuriating in their clean(ish) new bathrooms and the search for scapegoats is over, will there be anything else to get excited about?

The Commonwealth Games won’t be welcoming the monarch, but it will be graced by the presence of Scotland’s Willie Wood—the doyen of lawn bowls. This is one event you won’t see at the Olympics, so the prospect of watching the 72-year-old competing in his eighth Games since 1974 is one that should thrill sports fans everywhere. Wood, author of the irresistibly titled manual, A Bias to Bowls, is a genuine “golden oldie”. But his claim that the introduction of coloured balls is making the game seem more attractive to younger players seems rather fanciful to me.

Then there’s the ladies netball event. A couple of years ago, Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a shameless attempt to get more netball fans to vote Labour by calling for the sport to be included in the 2012 Olympics. It’s only been part of the Commonwealth Games since 1998, and I suspect that anyone who likes basketball will question the point of a sedate, non-contact version of the game, in which players can’t travel with the ball or move out of their zone. That’s right, it’s basketball for killjoys, with arch rivals Australia and New Zealand duking it out for the title of big girl’s blouse.

But the really big news is that tennis is making its maiden appearance at the Delhi Games. Though I cheered Rafael Nadal’s gold medal in Beijing, I’ve never thought that tennis needed the Olympics—or visa versa. Given that most of the game’s top players are from Continental Europe, a Commonwealth tennis event does seem largely irrelevant. Sadly, the one tennis luminary who might have benefited—Scotland’s Andy Murray—will not be there to cut a swathe through the modest opposition. Delhi will just have to make do with his big brother, Jamie, a decidedly inferior specimen.

Yet despite this rather eccentric selection of sports, the big name absentees and (yes) those mucky-looking bathrooms, I’m still feeling upbeat about the Games. In 2002, when Manchester was the host city, I was gripped by Australian freestyle swimmer Ian Thorpe’s pursuit of seven gold medals. The Thorpedo failed to emulate Mark Spitz’s seven-gold haul in the pool at the Munich Olympics, but six golds and a silver was a pretty good effort. Since then, both have been eclipsed by the medal-winning marvel that is Michael Phelps.

Now Thorpe is back in Commonwealth action as part of the BBC poolside commentary team which also includes former British swimmer, Mark Foster, who sports an Olympic rings tattoo above his left nipple. Whatever happens elsewhere, I’m hoping that the Thorpedo will bring wit, erudition, impartiality and the minimum of hysteria to his new role. The last thing these Games need is for the mammoth Aussie to be the commentating equivalent of a beached whale.

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About Susannah Straughan

  • STM and the axis of evil


    Not really, although Warnie and Campo are also known to their own countrymen/women as loudmouths.

    However, they do join a long list of sportsmen from both ends of the UK-Australia divide who thought it served them best to mouth off. In Campo’s case, the problem is a loose connection between brain and mouth. Warnie’s only excuse is that he’s a bogan and thus doesn’t really have an excuse.

    But such niceties are in no way confined to the Australian end of that divide.

    And in the case of those two fellows, I’d have thought that whilst known for mouthing, it’s not all they’re known for; they at least had the benefit of being very, very good at what they do. The only saving grace here is backing up stupid words with great performances on the field.

    And for the record, I’m not really THAT anonymous.

  • STM, or whatever your name is, I thought these boards were for discussing the articles not trying to get a rise out of the writers.

    You seem determined to take offence at my “know-it-alls” comment and characterise me as another stuck up Brit.

    Can I just point out that you have the enormous benefit of anonymity here. I do not.

    For the record, my comment related to sportsmen like Shane Warne and David Campese, who (if memory serves) have mouthed off about England teams in the past.

    That’s it. I’m not against Australia or Australians.

    Does that satisfy you?

  • STM and the axis of evil


    Yes, Doc, that’s it, isn’t it? And of course, we do so love it here when the to-and-froms come out from the Old Dart and start telling us how to do everything whilst not so subtly looking down their noses at the colonials and pointing out our collective flaws 😉

    Expat author Kathy Lette complains that she spent an awful lot of time looking up the nostrils of English folk the first few years she was over there.

    Even, she says, the nostrils of people shorter than her.

    It echoes my own experience, so I thoroughly concur.

    Having dual citizenship can lull people into a false sense of security. By claiming to be British (not a total untruth), you find out what they would be saying behind your back if they thought you were simply Orrs-tray-lian.

  • Stan, no. It is really hard to like a know-it-all when you actually do know it all!


  • STM and the axis of evil

    “We Brits just don’t like know-it-alls.”

    Was that delivered without a hint of irony?

  • Actually I was thinking more of my own experiences playing netball back in the 70s!

    I’m hoping BBC viewers might get to see Thorpie as well as hear him. Sharron Davies’s comments tend to get lost amidst the all teeth and the cleavage.

    Oh, and you’re wrong about the Aussie accents. We Brits just don’t like know-it-alls.

  • STM and the axis of evil

    Netball … “a sedate, non-contact version of the game”.

    Lol. Well, hardly sedate. The pace and speed of the game, especially at international level, is one of the reasons it has one of the highest levels of knee and ankle injuries of any team sport.

    And it’s only THEORETICALLY non-contact. You haven’t been wearing family-sized coke-bottle glasses have you Susannah, whilst watching?? Most of the top teams have a well-oiled dirty tricks department.

    Thorpie’s actually not too bad commentating, although Britons tend to bristle at any Aussie accent except Richie Benaud’s.

  • STM

    We have had the Aussie olympics boss here saying that in hindsight, India probably shouldn’t have been given the Comm Games.

    The very serious security and dengue fever issues (many more cases of dengue than is usual in Delhi have been reported in the lead-up to the Games) are worries on their own, but it’s the state of the Games village and some of the facilities that has left me wondering.

    However, the Indian government isn’t wondering; their own investigators have found mass rorting on contracts, inflated costs, and poor building standards that don’t meet Indian regulations (including those for electricity and plumbing).

    Someone’s been pocketing the cash and the sad part of it is that instead of seeing this is an opportunity to showcase India to the world, shysters have instead decided it’s a great opportunity to make a quick buck at everyone else’s expense (mainly the Indian taxpayer).

    That’s the real issue and one about which India should be ashamed. This rorting has happened despite the Indian government’s best attempts to ensure it didn’t happen. Imagine if you were simply trying to get a building permit in Delhi for a house.

    Let’s hope the Games go off without a hitch.

    Go Australia!