Thursday, 14 October 2010

A taste of the big time but Commonwealth Games are still small fry


Spectacular: Indian martial artists perform during the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium

There was a theory aired here yesterday that if last night had marked the opening - rather than the closing - of the XIX Commonwealth Games, Delhi would be ready.

Two problems with that. The jamboree had started 11 days earlier. And, anyway, the city was still barely fit for purpose as dusk closed in.

High standard: A huge Indian flag descends on the closing ceremony in Delhi

You may have heard otherwise. If so, the news was probably delivered by: a) those who have not been here to witness the Games creaking on their hinges; b) diplomatic countries led by England who did not wish to upset the Commonwealth fraternity; c) many Indians; d) inverted snobs who accused the real ists of peddling Western condescension for daring to criticise a developing country.

Yes, the sport has offered intermittent relief, not least through the uplifting sight of Tom Daley's diving, but we should not forget the corruption-infested incompetence that has masqueraded as an international carnival.

Spectacle of colour: Disabled children perform during the pre-closing show of the Commonwealth Games

Lest we forget, 23 poor workers were injured when a bridge collapsed on the eve of the old Empire converging on an athletes' village then stained by paan spit and excrement.

At this stage I was sent from London to report on the fiasco as it unfolded. Short of significantly more masonry fal l ing or a bomb exploding, it was soon clear that the Games would go ahead, albeit in a last-minute, haphazard haze.

So it was. The recall gun was not allowed into the athletics stadium on safety grounds. A scoreboard fell down. Buses ran late and got lost. Fans stayed away from many venues. The results service did not work to the end.

Staff threatened a strike after being stranded for four hours following the first night of track and field. Stomachs turned as illness struck. Was it a dirty swimming pool or contaminated food? We never did find out.

High energy: Traditional Indian dance dominated the colourful closing ceremony

All this was played out in the public glare. Suresh Kalmadi, the slippery chairman of that great misnomer, the Organising Committee, felt the need to go on television to state he should be hanged if found guilty of giving or receiving backhanders.

Be careful what you wish for, Sir. Speaking of Mr Kalmadi we should record for fun his delight at the Royal presence at an admittedly impressive opening ceremony. 'Yes, Princess Diana was there,' he declared triumphantly.

It was one of his more believable statements. We should not be one eyed as the Chemical Ali of Delhi. There were some genuine highlights among the mess. Alicia Coutts was an outstanding performer in the pool for Australia, with five gold medals. The swimming competition was keen throughout. The boxing crackled with intensity.

Hockey, India's national sport, provided drama up to the last act, when the hosts were trounced by Australia. Nevertheless, the perennial debate was going on as Glasgow took the flag from Delhi at the glittering closing ceremony and prepared to give the Commonwealth Games the kiss of life four years hence: is it worth the breath?

Guest of honour: Prince Edward watched in awe alongside Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmani

Dame Kelly Holmes, president of Commonwealth Games England, spoke for the defence. 'It gives athletes the chance to experience a multisport championships,' she said yesterday.

'They don't get that at the worlds or Europeans. It is about things like being in the dining hall with all the other athletes from different disciplines. At the Olympics, the hall will be the size of six or seven football fields with food from around the world. The Commonwealth Games give them a taste of that environment.'

That is where the Commonwealth Games stand: as a useful tool in preparation for the big baubles of sport, but hardly more significant in world terms.

It is one of the reasons they are called the 'Friendly Games', a moniker borne out here. The competition was mostly good spirited. The hospitality of ordinary Indians was life-enhancing, even if the party did not spill out on to the streets.

You're next: Delhi officially handed the baton over to Glasgow

There is one major caveat on the subject of friendliness. The Games existed under the threat of terrorism. If you prefer to enter sport stadiums without a dozen guns trained on every part of your anatomy from your toes to your temples, the experience could be unnerving.

It had to be done, though, and congratulations to India for keeping us safe as of last night.

What can London learn ahead of hosting the Olympics in 2012?

Next to nothing, it seems. The development in Stratford is so advanced that it is approximately as ready as Delhi was when I arrived here just over three weeks ago. The exaggeration is only slight.

source :dailymail [endtext]

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