The Commonwealth Games had its successes but Delhi’s difficulties staging it were inescapable, so was the event a triumph over adversity or a resounding disappointment?
The 2010 games were dogged by serious construction delays and a collapsed footbridge before they even began. Numerous complaints then called into question the conditions in the athletes’ village. Despite organisers spending $240m, reports of flooding, exposed wiring, dirty bathrooms and even paw prints on a bed lead to it being condemned by Team Scotland as “unsafe and unfit for human habitation”.
The opening ceremony was impressive and drew a 60,000 strong crowd but unfortunately did not signal the end of the problems. Reports of snakes in the village, allegations of a contaminated swimming pool and widespread ‘Delhi belly’ continued concerns about sanitation. There was also the unusual deployment of larger monkeys to act as security, preventing smaller monkeys from causing problems. Scales gave out incorrect readings, causing boxers to head for the sauna in an attempt to lose more weight than was necessary. Games Chief, Suresh Kalmadi, even thanked Princess Diana for attending the opening ceremony instead of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
More seriously, stadia were left largely empty after difficulties with ticket availability and pricing. Although, this issue was eventually rectified with the provision of free tickets for children and underprivileged locals.
An inquiry has now also been ordered to investigate the possibility of widespread corruption among organisers. High profile ministers and bureaucrats will not be exempt from having their actions scrutinised either, creating the possibility of further embarrassment.
India’s athletes did their best to compensate for all these organisational difficulties by excelling in their events. Thrilling hockey victories over Pakistan and England lifted the home nation and were swiftly followed by a clean sweep of gold, silver and bronze in the women’s discus and a stunning success in the women’s 4x400m relay. The noise in the stadium at the latter event showed that the games had finally captured the imagination of a nation and on the final day, India surpassed England to finish second in the overall gold medal table.
Home advantage always has an impact but India’s performance is a real boost to the country’s sporting reputation. However, on the organisational front, the host nation did not make the impression it would have wanted. The Beijing Olympics were a tough act to follow and unfortunately India was unable to leave a similar legacy and show itself as the emerging superpower that it claims to be.