The nineteenth Commonwealth Games are set to begin on October 3, 2010 in Delhi, India. This multi-sport event that brings together athletes from the Commonwealth of Nations (former colonies of the British Empire) has been taking place every four years since 1930 with the exception of 1942 and 1946, which were canceled due to World War II. The event has undergone a few name changes over the years: British Empire Games (1930-1950), British Empire and Commonwealth Games (1954-1966), British Commonwealth Games (1970-1974), and Commonwealth Games (1978-current). At the 1930 event in Hamilton, Canada there were seven sports, eleven nations, and 400 competitors. The 2010 event in Delhi is expected to have seventeen sports, seventy-one nations, and 7,200 competitors.
Track & field (or athletics as it is known internationally) has been part of the Commonwealth Games’ program throughout its eighty year history. One of the most famous mile races in history took place at the 1954 competition in Vancouver, Canada. That race, known as the Race of the Century, matched the only two men to have broken four minutes for the mile up to that point in history: the United Kingdom’s Roger Bannister (the first to do it with a 3:59.4 on May 4, 1954) and Australia’s John Landy (the then record holder with a 3:57.9 on June 21, 1954). Landy, who like to push the pace from the beginning, built up a sizeable lead mid-race. Bannister, who like to rely on his blistering kick, remained in second place but in striking range. At the bell lap, they were running together. You’ll have to watch the video to see how the race turns out, but I will tell you that history was made because both runners broke four minutes.
Unfortunately the topics getting the most media attention are: who is not competing, security issues, and facility problems.
Among the many big-name Commonwealth country athletes not competing are: Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, David Rudisha, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, Philip Idowu, Shelly-Ann Fraser, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Kerron Stewart, Christine Ohuruogu, Caster Semenya, Janeth Jepkosgei, Lisa Dobriskey, and Linet Masai. Some of the athletes cited injuries for their last minute withdrawals. Others may just be tired after a long summer of racing. October is pretty late in the year to have a championship meet. Most athletes’ seasons are scheduled to finish in August or September, to give ample time to rest and start training again for the 2011 season which includes the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea.
Rumored security issues could be the reason for some of the mysterious last minute injuries that seem to keep cropping up. Last week there was an attack on foreign tourists in Delhi by suspected militia. All the Indian states are on heightened alert in anticipation of possible Hindu-Muslin violence that may follow a court ruling due this week over the ownership of a disputed religious site. Delegations are uneasy. Canada has told its athletes to not leave the Games Village. England has told its athletes to not wear team apparel in public because of kidnapping fears. Australian officials have warned fans to not wear Aussie team colors or fly the Australian flag so as to not attract the attention of terrorists.
Those athletes who feel safe at the Commonwealth Games still have to deal with facility issues. The construction of many venues and athlete dormitories is just now being completed, and not without drama. A pedestrian bridge leading to the main stadium (Jawaharlal Nehru) collapsed, injuring twenty people. Part of the ceiling to the weightlifting venue collapsed. Snakes were found in two Commonwealth Games venues – one in an athlete dorm room and the other, a cobra (some reports say it was four feet long, others say it was ten feet long), at the tennis venue. Stray dogs and monkeys have been unwelcome guests in the Athletes’ Village. Complaints about the accommodations have included, “filthy and uninhabitable,” and, a report from an Indian boxer that his bed collapsed when he sat on it. New England, Scotland, and Canada have all delayed their team’s arrival to give the officials more time to get the accommodations in order. After some last minute repairs and cleaning, England chef de mission, Craig Hunter, told a UK newspaper, “We are where we think the accommodation is acceptable for us. The village had the potential to be five star. We’re at about three star at the moment.”
These Commonwealth Games were meant to enhance India’s reputation as a growing world power. Instead, its image has been battered by negative publicity. Let’s hope that the games are a success and that by the time the games end on October 14 all the pre-competition worries have been long forgotten.