Concerns have been quietly simmering for months about this year’s Commonwealth Games, which is set to begin on October 3 in New Delhi. And the last couple of days have seen those concerns cranked up a notch or ten after a footbridge collapsed outside the the main stadium on Tuesday, the latest event in a flood of negative press for the already beleaguered games organisers.

Reports of excrement and dengue fever found by safety authorities in the athletes’ village hasn’t helped, and there was also news late last week that the event had been given an 80% probability of a terrorist attack from a security assessment group — not exactly something you put on the brochure. Bizarrely, Australian long distance runner Steve Moneghetti punched numbers into his own terrorism indicator and declared the slightly less grim, but no less alarming, outlook of a “50-50 chance of a terrorist attack.”

Much of the Australian press has been focused towards athletes and whether or not they will pull out for safety reasons.

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22-year-old Australian world champion discus thrower Dani Samuels officially folded earlier this week, telling News Limited “…the closer the deadline gets, the scarier the situation has become. So I’ve decided it’s not worth the risk.” Reports suggest the consensus among other competitors is that they are cautiously “standing firm” and awaiting a verdict from the top.

Swimmer Geoff Huegell  told the Daily Mercury “if we get formal warnings from the Australian Government or the Commonwealth Games Association I will obviously follow their lead. Until they say ‘you can’t race’ I’m there.”

Under the headline ‘Swimmmers won’t give up on Commonwealth Games dream,’ The Australian trumpeted that the swimming team “remains fired up to compete.”

Nicole Jeffrey wrote:

Those contacted yesterday, including Geoff Huegill, Eamon Sullivan and Ashley Callus, declared they were still intent on competing in Delhi. Divers Matthew Mitcham and Alex Croak also declared they would not withdraw without a direct recommendation from the federal government and the Australian Commonwealth Games Association.

Sports Minister Mark Arbib has “conceded it is possible the Australian team could still pull out of the Commonwealth Games if the situation in India deteriorates further,” reports The Age.

Scotland and Canada, reports The New Zealand Herald, became “the first teams to delay their departures to New Delhi because of the appalling conditions at the athletes’ village.” The New Zealand team is set to announce their position later today. The South African are still set to depart for Delhi this Sunday.

In the current climate of angst and uncertainty, some outlets have framed their stories in a “clock is ticking” context. “India races against time to save Games,” reports the Arab News. “Delhi given 48 hours to bring Commonwealth Games up to scratch,” says The Herald Sun.

Wider debates are also taking place about the virtues and vices of choosing New Delhi as the host city.

Sam Varghese, writing in The Age, argues no team should go to Delhi.

In India, corruption is a way of life…The media can, perhaps, criticise or give a bad name to an event but it cannot make a blocked toilet acceptable to anyone. That the complaints about the athletes’ village have come first from New Zealand speaks volumes — Kiwis are about the most tolerant Westerners I have encountered. If they have cause for complaint, then things must be really bad.

Barney Ronay in The Guardian is more optimistic, listing ten reasons why the games should go ahead — including that India has “really has made an effort” and “has thrown the kitchen sink at Delhi.”

Others, such as John Durie in The Australian, have used the Delhi fiasco to highlight issues facing the Indian economy.

Eighty per cent of the country is yet to be built, which explains why the nascent economy offers so much potential. Indian business and government is confident it can rise to the challenge in its own time and within its democratic structure.

With the event engulfed in angst and uncertainty, the temptation to run much more hyperbolic headlines — arguably not without cause — must be strong. Thus the Adelaide Now ran the far spicier ‘Commonwealth Games in New Delhi on brink of disaster.’

Meanwhile The Times of India continues to slam local commonwealth officials, “As the stink grew and the crap hit the ceiling, the people behind the preparation of the Games — Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit, OC boss Suresh Kalmadi, central ministers Jaipal Reddy and M S Gill — either ducked the media or proffered ridiculous excuses in order to explain away their incompetence and worse which were shaming the entire country.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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