This may come as a rude surprise to local
sports fans, but this year’s Commonwealth Games may not be the sporting
extravaganza organisers have promised. Yes, yes, it’s unthinkable, but with top
athletes dropping out left and right, it’s hard not to reach that conclusion.

Last week, Aussie cyclist Robbie McEwen
joined Baden Cooke, Stuart O’Grady, Michael Rogers and Cadel Evans in
announcing he wouldn’t be competing in March. The official line is
that his European team wouldn’t release him for the Games, which coincide with
the start of the European racing season.

It’s a reasonable excuse, if not all that
creative, but when McEwen suggested that the Commonwealth Games cycling
competition could be turned into an under 25s event, organisers had every right
to feel hurt.

“It may open up a chance for some of the
younger riders to step up into a leadership role,” he said. Are the
Commonwealth Games so unimportant to world cycling that they should be turned
into a junior development event?

Organisers received worse news this morning
with The Age reporting that current 100 metres
world record holder, Jamaican Asafa Powell, is only a 50/50 chance
of competing.
According to team mate Sandy Richards, he’s recovering from a groin injury.

As Peter Ker wrote, this could be
disastrous for organisers with “close to 300,000 seats still unsold for
athletics sessions.” It’s not clear whether stars like Powell command
appearance fees for the Commonwealth Games, but his rumoured non-attendance
would certainly put his management in a strong bargaining position if, in fact,
they did.

Ker also wrote that Britain’s leading
athletics coach called the Commonwealth Games a second rate event that should
not get in the way of his athletes preparing for the European season. Ouch.

Ever since the Commonwealth Games were
awarded to Melbourne, organisers have been telling us the event
is not a second rate Olympics. While nobody doubts it will be an organisational
masterpiece, maybe some of that hype should have been directed at athletes.

Then again, maybe with such a wide open
field, it’s time for “Our Matt Shirvington,” aka Shirvo, to make a comeback.