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India's athletes redeem Commonwealth Games

Soutik Biswas | 14:24 UK time, Thursday, 14 October 2010

Krishna Poonia

It has been a magic time for India's fatalistic sports lovers. Its athletes have redeemed the Commonwealth Games with their finest performance ever, winning 38 gold medals and pushing India to the second place in the table. That's up two places from India's two previous games outings: a truly superlative performance. Away from the rising din of the Delhi games, India's cricket team routed the visiting Australians in a short Test series during the same period.


A rousing performance in an international sporting event can lift the spirits of a nation, and many say the Delhi games have done precisely that to India. Most of us - this writer included - felt that that the games were doomed because of the familiar taint of corruption and gross bungling. When a pedestrian bridge leading to the main stadium collapsed barely days before the opening, India's reputation touched its nadir and we thought it was all over.

It wasn't. India's athletes picked up the gauntlet, and how. Discuss thrower Krishna Poonia became the first Indian woman to win athletics gold at a Commonwealth Games, and the second Indian to win a Games track and field title, after Milkha Singh in 1958. The 4X400m women's relay team, led by Mandeep Kaur, outsped others to pick up gold. India had won nine track and field medals at the games since 1958. At Delhi, it picked up a dozen medals alone, including two gold. "It's unbelievable," India's best-known woman athlete PT Usha told reporters. "I've never seen some of the girls run like before."

Incidentally, many of India's sterling performances came from women, including badminton star Saina Nehwal, who picked up the badminton singles gold. Many of India's medal-winning women athletes came from the northern state of Haryana, which has some of the worst rates of female foeticide in the country. These girls can drive change in this benighted region better than the politicians.

That was not all. The once glorious field hockey team - undefeated in the Olympic Games between 1928 and 1956, winning six gold medals in succession - which has been on a comeback of sorts made it to the finals before being thrashed by Australia. (The team had returned empty handed from the three Commonwealth Games ever since hockey was introduced in 1998)

One hopes that India's apathetic sports officials will build on the success of its athletes and begin treating them better with more incentives, increased funding and improved infrastructure. The legacy of the Delhi games will depend on this alone. The expensive stadia and other state-of-the-art infrastructure could easily turn out to be white elephants, decaying away in neglect, if they are not used to showcase and train athletes regularly. Half of India's one billion population is under the age of 25. Can there be any other country in the world with such untapped sporting potential?


Saina Nehwal

It is tempting to suggest that India's success at the games have happened despite the system - even after the 1982 Asian Games in Delhi, sports has remained mired in politics, nepotism, provincialism and corruption. Governments don't appear to be interested in nurturing sports seriously by tapping talent at the grassroots and setting up academies. Will the Delhi games help in ushering in a new sports culture in India?

There's still a lot of catching up to do, as sports writer Suresh Menon points out. One sobering example: the 100m track record in India is 10.3 seconds, achieved in 2005. Canadian Percy Williams clocked that record in 1930. So India trails by 75 years in that event. Or take China. Since 1984, India has won three Olympic medals. China has won 420. India's athletes have shown a lot of promise at Delhi, but it's still a long way to the top. Will the authorities now wake up - and do their job?

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  • 1. At 7:57pm on 14 Oct 2010, Annavaram wrote:

    "Will the authorities now wake up - and do their job?" ah! again a prompt question by this BBC writer! by the way, have the Indian authorities in India ever woken up and done their job? my contention might look little more emphatic, but the reality is very hard to digest. take the example of this very commonwealth. ever since the preparations for the event started, the focus has really been more on how to showcase Delhi as an international city than to demonstrate how youthful the sport in this country is. if India stood the second best in the just concluded games, it was not because Mr. Suresh Kalmadi and Mrs. Sheela Dixit did anything extraordinary in order to encourage the sportspersons, rather it was largely a coincidence. I am not saying it is a luck. the young players, with very little or no support, have really done their best and made the host nation feel proud. they definitely need our heartfelt congratulations. but what I am obviously ready to stand for is a fact that today's stunning success is in no way a political maturation. whether we like it or not, some of the hard-nocking athletes did not show up to the games, and their absence was definitely one of the prominent factors responsible for what the final outcome was.

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  • 2. At 9:28pm on 14 Oct 2010, BakedBeans wrote:

    when sport becomes career choice everything would happen.

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  • 3. At 11:56pm on 14 Oct 2010, rahul joshi wrote:

    I will quote a statement from another blog on BBC about the commonwealth games.
    "The last irony is that the Commonwealth Games organisers have apparently made no provision for sport in the future - buildings aside. There is no cash injection waiting to flood in to athletics, cycling or hockey. What use are some of the best facilities without droves of people to use them - that has got to be a worry." --Pinset

    This is why i am a skeptic when it comes to Indian sports.




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  • 4. At 01:26am on 15 Oct 2010, Jay wrote:

    The fantastic performance by Indian athletes in this 2010 CWG is mainly personal in nature. Their motivation, training, grooming etc are done mostly on personal/private level. So called “system” should not claim much in this glorious saga.

    I hope, now Indian government will do proper postmortem; full, impartial investigation for all the corruption charges against the organizing committee, specifically against some of its powerful members. Let’s see how our PM and many others who asked for a successful CWG and promised that “all the corrupt organizers and contractors will be brought to justice”. Now the game is over, with good success. Let’s see the desire and ability of our political leadership to keep their promise.

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  • 5. At 06:35am on 15 Oct 2010, jaspal8 wrote:

    Excellent INDIA... :)

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  • 6. At 07:02am on 15 Oct 2010, bindaas wrote:

    This was a fantastic performance by India despite all odds which it faced in the beginning. I was really shocked to read BBC highlights of Delhi Memorable moments, which is highlighting things like Suresh kalmadi toungue slips rather than highlighting the world class sports venues or talking all the time about the dirty toiltes rather than mentioning the effort of Volunteers who tirelessly worked for comfort and cleanliness of games village. It underlined collapsing bridge as the memorable moment rather than mentioning that it was completed within 5 days afterwards by ARMY.
    BBC writer included all the jobs well done in one point whereas took 6-7 points to show the minor negatives. I wonder at this short-sightedness.
    Bring some +veness guys...try some yoga !!

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  • 7. At 10:49am on 15 Oct 2010, Chetan_Singh wrote:

    BBC sucks !!!! The reporters suffer from tunnel vision !!!! Full of negativity....grow up guys...India is rising power & your propaganda wont effect India anymore...

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  • 8. At 11:04am on 15 Oct 2010, Worm wrote:

    "Half of India's one billion population is under the age of 25". This is a very revealing statistic and does indeed show that if the right policies and incentives are put in place, India's most famous athletes won't just be cricket players any more. In fact the same way China have grown across international sports with athletes such as Yao Ming and Liu Xiang, may be the same way India is going as well.

    However a few simple lessons in sports science and bio-kinetics may tell you that the 100m may not be an event suited to Indian athletes. After all this year marked the first year in athletics history that a caucasian went under the 10 second barrier. Holistically speaking therefore, 10.3 is a fairly impressive time.

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  • 9. At 12:45pm on 15 Oct 2010, WaveyDavey007 wrote:

    I was so surprised the Games went off so well in the end !!

    Well done Indians :o)

    Still cannot even imagine how you got 38 Golds !!!

    Super Well Done !!

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  • 10. At 1:35pm on 15 Oct 2010, krim wrote:

    Its good to hear positive things from soutik this time after the the Indian athelets proved themselves. After all the negative publicity created by the bbc and other international media of the preparation of these games, the way the games were managed and including the security which was fantastic which has set aside all those previous negative impressions created about India's organisational skills of these games. I would have thought that there might have been at least few words to praise the excellent organisation of the games in this blog but I did not find any. When I compare to his recent previous blogs where fierce critism of the games organisation was done, I get disappointed to see that the Indian reporter are filled with inferiority complex that they find everything to criticise India while do not have any heart to praise their own country even at the time when a great accomplishment has been made.

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  • 11. At 1:46pm on 15 Oct 2010, Pras_n_Srini wrote:

    Chalk up two ways that CWG-2010 did NOT duplicate the embarassments (to host-nation) of Summer-Olympics-1976 where Canada (the games were in Montreal):
    (*) won a total of ZERO (even in "exhibition" sports) golds
    (*) got saddled with cost-overruns and never-finished facilities
    (*) got a new and totally unnecessary airport (the pre-existing one at Dorval is HUGE, and well-able to handle all traffic through Montreal) 65 km outside the city, which added to the country's tax-burden (the new terminal at Delhi, while showy and pricey, will soon be in overload-mode as existing IGI terminals were)

    But only if India develops a sports-culture (there is a running joke that India DOES have people who can beat the 100-m records--but they are OFFICIALS wishing to get berths for international sporting-events) will the CWG truly have had a meaning!

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  • 12. At 01:12am on 16 Oct 2010, svadrevu wrote:

    First I must thank the BBC for Mr. Biswas’s column.

    We are all grateful for the way things turned out.

    What I wonder is how did this 180 degree transformation in CWG expectations come about?

    How and what did it take to come from ‘dirty toilets’ and ‘broken bridges’ to a FANTASTIC Opening Ceremony; excellent turn around for a ‘non-cricketing’ event; and a FABULOUS and EMOTIONAL closing ceremony.

    Perhaps Mr. Biswas can investigate this and write a little about this so we can all benefit from this experience.

    And, thank you Mr. Biswas.

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  • 13. At 10:17pm on 16 Oct 2010, whistle_blower wrote:

    Why are the Indians worried about what BBC and other English Media think about CWG and India? The initial negative propaganda helped to over achieve the way the games are conducted. We should be thankful to the media especially BBC. CWG got noticed by more people than usual and they also noticed that India stand second in the medal tally. Another possibility is that BBC must have thought reporting the CWG in this way would make Glasgow looks better for the next CWG when there is not a lot of money in their kitty. Indians should have the attitude “This is how we do it and get used to it ". A bit like the Indian call centre English accent is getting used by the rest of the word ...LOL....

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