Sunday, 26 September 2010

Uncommon wealth

The English ladies Lawn Bowls team
were devastated to discover that they
had been provided with such
sub-standard accommodation

As I write, a team of twelve-year-old girls are feverishly hammering and sawing their little socks off to ensure the 2010 Commonwealth Games can go ahead as planned. The idea of employing fully grown and skilled tradespeople to complete this work seems to have eluded the organisers, who no doubt saw the crowds of youngsters displaced from the many bulldozed villages en-route to the stadium as perfect candidates for earning a little pocket money. And so, with just over a week to go before the curtain is raised on possibly the most pointless competition in the world of sport, the British seize their opportunity for a bit of a moan. Actually, the Kiwis are moaning as well, as is practically everyone involved. It is comforting to know that the mother country has at least bequeathed something to its many usurping offspring.

I have a question: exactly why do we need an athletes’ ‘village’? I’ve always been a bit baffled by the concept of these places, Olympic or otherwise, which for three weeks in a lifetime are inhabited by groups of opposing athletes who would probably much rather not have to bump into their detested arch rivals every time they pop out to the village shop. What exactly makes it a village? Perhaps there’s a little church hall serving tea and cakes and a graffiti-lined bus shelter crammed with steroid-injecting miscreants. Whatever goes on inside these strange little gated communities, I don’t see the point. Yes, competitors need somewhere to sleep, eat and have rampant sex with each other, but why can’t they do those things in a hotel? It’s good enough for footballers after all.

In a defiant move, the English Commonwealth team has sent some of its athletes to do exactly that in the run up to the beginning of the games, whilst the diligent workmen at the village site attempt to shake off the Dengue fever long enough to connect
monsoon-soaked cables to exposed sockets with their teeth. So the hockey team are all comfy in their five-star suites, and would probably rather stay there rather than have an air-conditioning unit fall on their heads. If every athlete (around 8000 in total) were to do the same, wouldn’t that be better all round? I don’t buy the argument about training facilities either. The lawn bowls team were the first to boycott the accommodation, and have more chance of recreating the conditions of a lush surrey bowling green in the function room of a plush hotel than they ever would have of finding a patch of suitable grass in Delhi. Plus, the runners can jog round the block, the weight-lifters can carry people’s cases upstairs and the if the rest have come this far and still need to practise, well quite frankly, that’s their fault.

I may be being a little flippant, but doing things this way would save an awful lot of money. The athletes’ village is to be sold as luxury apartments on completion of the games, and there isn’t a hope in hell that this money will find its way back to even partially reimbursing the government investment, and will instead line the already-jangling pockets of the Dubai-based property company responsible for the shambles. What is the difference then, of sprinkling a lot less money on building a couple more hotels, which takes no time at all (the new Premier Inn in Greenwich for instance, was built overnight) and constructing a smaller, centralised training facility somewhere near the stadium site? That way, the competitors would all be able to stay together with their respective teams, yet not have to share a lift every morning with the person that intends to trample them into the sandpit.

The biggest problem here is the questionable need to hold a Commonwealth Games in the first place. An anachronistic concept at best, there seems to me no conceivable reason to continue with it. The sheer expense alone surely raises questions about the viability of a ‘tradition’ that is as defunct as the empire itself. Things have moved on, thank God, and so should we all. If the enthusiasm is there for an alternative competition to the Olympic Games, why not expand it to include other nations that didn’t have the pleasure of having an British flag plonked on their native turf a few hundred years ago? Obviously you can’t let the Americans in, because they would take over and ruin it, but surely athletes want to compete at the highest level, and not just against the other countries from a Victorian atlas?

Nevertheless, these games will go ahead and everything will probably be fine. Anyone who seriously expected a trouble-free construction effort in Delhi was deluding themselves. The games are costing £1.5 billion, more than ever before, and yet the facilities are sub-standard. As much as it is regrettable to admit, a certain amount of corruption within the system and greed amongst contractors must have led us to this point, and the overriding feeling is that it was inevitable. It seems ludicrous that the condition of the buildings and infrastructure has only just been identified as unsatisfactory, and that the problem wasn’t spotted and rectified sooner. This is, however, partially down to the media’s love of scandal, as a felicitously timed expose can do wonders for the impact of a story (just ask any Premiership footballer).

Personally, I hope the people of Delhi defy the negative speculation surrounding them and put on a bloody good show of hosting these games. After all, if we have to have them, we may as well enjoy them (and try not to lose). But more than anything, I really hope the garden bowls team find a lawn without a pile of rubble on it. Poor things.