New Delhi backers must go

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:21 AM ET

If you indeed reap what you sow, then every delegate who voted for New Delhi, India to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games should now stand up and take a bow. And then resign.

The Games, which run Oct. 3-14, are promising to turn into an unmitigated disaster, with health and safety headaches piling up by the day and Commonwealth member nations, including Canada, threatening to withdraw from the competition unless the Indian government takes immediate steps to remedy an increasingly dire situation. Canadian officials have delayed the departure of its athletes to New Delhi and Manitoba archers, Kevin Tataryn and Dietmar Trillus, on Wednesday withdrew from the Games.

And this is precisely what happens when politics and greed rear their ugly heads in amateur sport, particularly at the international level.

Back in 2003, at the swanky Half Moon Bay Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Commonwealth nations delegates voted 46-22 to award the Indian capital the Games over Hamilton, despite the fact that the Ontario city, according to many neutral observers, put forth the best bid. (Reminiscent of the 1996 Olympic Games bid, which were awarded to Atlanta, home of one of the IOC's major sponsors, Coca-Cola, over cities with superior bids, including Toronto. Atlanta turned out to be one of the worst Games ever).

However, just before the final vote in Jamaica, the New Delhi bid group promised $128,000 to each participating country, along with air tickets, boarding, lodging and transport, if they were awarded the Games -- essentially a last-minute bribe which the Commonwealth Games committee allowed, much to the astonishment of the Hamilton group.

Since then, corruption and controversy have plagued the 2010 Games organizers, to the point where some participating nations are considering withdrawing their athletes unless the problems are rectified immediately. A number of high profile international athletes have already withdrawn, including Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt of Jamaica and tennis stars Lleyton Hewitt of Australia and Andy Murray of Great Britain.

The primary dilemma is the state of the athletes' village, which has been described as "not fit for human habitation". There are also problems with plumbing, wiring, internet and mobile phone access, as well as reports of excrement found in the village and pools of water under some of the beds.

Other concerns include shoddy construction (a footbridge under construction near the main stadium collapsed on Tuesday), security breaches (two tourists from Taiwan were shot Sunday outside a centuries-old mosque and a car bomb exploded), as well as health issues (a record rainfall this summer has contributed to a dengue fever outbreak, and the athletes' village is located on the banks of the Yamuna River, where mosquitoes carrying the disease breed).

Still, not all the blame can be put on the Games organizers. The member delegates who voted New Delhi as the host city should have foreseen such problems for a Games hosted by an emerging nation such as India.

Sadly, it's the athletes who are often the forgotten pawns when Games are awarded and planned. It's the high-level officials who line their pockets and stay in first-class accommodations during bid meetings and the actual Games, and the athletes -- the supposed stars of the show -- who are treated like second class citizens.

At the 1997 Francophone Games in Madagascar, one of the poorest nations on Earth, a number of Canadian athletes became ill as a result of unsanitary conditions in the village. Welland boxer Issac Mitchell had to undergo a painful series of rabies shots after being bit by a rodent while he was asleep in his dorm -- another example of sport officials putting the athletes' needs last.

What's particularly galling is that competitions such as the Commonwealth and Francophone Games are a waste of millions of dollars, particularly during difficult economic times. There was a time when second-tier, multi-sport Games were necessary, as they were key meets held in non Olympic years. But now virtually all the major summer sports hold their own world championships and World Cups -- competitions that are much more important to athletes than Commonwealth or Francophone Games, which are largely political exercises designed to placate certain interest groups, such as Monarchist associations and Quebec separatists.

What exactly is the point of spending millions on Games nobody really cares about when our top Olympic sport athletes barely receive enough to live and train properly?

I talked to a number of athletes prior to the Canadian track and field championships this summer in Toronto and many expressed a deep reluctance to go to the 2010 Commonwealth Games, but not so much as a knock against India.

Most elite summer sport athletes peak long before October and the idea of travelling thousands of miles away to compete at largely a second tier competition held little attraction.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/Beezersun


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