I thought I would hold off making any public comments about the Commonwealth Games until after the actual event, mostly because being a British expat in India if you criticise anything about India the general population will jump on you and accuse you of being a bloody westerner who is always trying to put India down.
Another, albeit smaller, reason was that I had this sneaky suspicion at the back of my mind that actually everything might work out in the end. It’s just the way things are in India; everything just has a magical, borderline spooky, way of working out – I can see why India is so spiritual and the home of Yoga and other meditation practices.
I don’t really know how to tackle the Commonwealth Games, so I think I’m just going to have to split it up in to sections…err and hope that it some how turns out alright in the end.
The Indian Athletes
Just one word: unbelievable. India has always been a nation that has underachieved in world sports. Their Olympic medal tally to date stands at 20 medals in the last 108 years and by contrast Jamaica have won 55 medals in the last 60 years.
There are too many reasons why this is the case, but if I had to put my finger on it, I would start by looking at the fact that 42% of people live on less than $1.25 a day, the immense pressure on young middle class adults to get a job in a multi-national company and study rather than playing sports and the total domination of cricket in the local sporting scene at the expense of other sports.
But wow. How these games have changed all that. The hosting nation always gets a medal boost as they invest more in to the sports to raise the profile of the games within the country, but India managed to exceed even the wildest expectations of sports commentators around the world – although inside the country they were open about the fact that they wanted to come second before the games even started, but I’m sure even they felt that they had gone above and beyond what they thought possible.
It seems that India concentrated on a few areas, there was the total domination in the shooting, archery and wrestling, but they also had individual stars in other events like tennis and badminton. On the track and field side of things there is still a lot of work to do, however the women won gold in the 4×400 relay and the men took bronze in the 4×100 event.
I think to put it simply: the performance of the Indian athletes eclipsed all the negativity in the build up to the event and you can’t take anything away from them.
Some critics might point that over 25 top athletes pulled out of the events which surely made an impact on the quality of the competition. However, over 100 Commonwealth Games records were set in Delhi, compared to just 33 in Melbourne 2006 – not exactly an indication of weakened competition!
Part of the reason for the excellent performances of so many athletes could be attributed to the $100,000 that India gave to all countries (which was fully disclosed in 2003 and definitely NOT a bribe in the under-the-table-brown-envelope sense) to help fund training, transport and lodging costs – something that enabled every country to compete, like the 4 man team from St. Helena, an island in the Atlantic so remote that Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled there by the British!
OK, I think that’s enough to write about for now, I still want to look at the corruption and building controversy that surrounded the build up to event in another blog post.