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Commonwealth Games: A good beginning

Soutik Biswas | 06:07 UK time, Monday, 4 October 2010

Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Delhi

I am not a great fan of opening ceremonies of global sporting events - I love the pyrotechnics and a few other bits, but the other nationalism-on-steroids spectacle and the unending procession of athletes leave me bored.


So, I loved the fireworks, and the kids splashing colours and painting hennaed hands, and a few other things in last evening's opening ceremony of the Delhi Commonwealth Games. With its dazzling lights, incessant - and jarring - drumming and a spectacular blimp hanging overhead in the hot Delhi sky, the show appeared to be a colourful mix of a Bollywood potboiler, a Delhi wedding, a U2 concert, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A show which, by all accounts, was liked by most, despite the vapid speeches and the interminably long length.

The foreign media, not surprisingly, is raving about the show. The Washington Post calls it an "epic opening ceremony". Sydney Morning Herald says: "Delhi's dazzling Commonwealth Games opening ceremony has won international praise and boosted the city's mood." The Guardian cooed that "the ceremony was - like the entire effort India has made for the games - monumental in its scale and expense". The Telegraph wondered: "No collapsing scenery or malfunctioning sound system. No fluffed lines, botched choreography or missed cues and not a single stray dog in sight. The preparations for the XIXth Commonwealth Games may have been an unmitigated disaster but India certainly knows how to put on a show."

In a way it also proves how low expectations were from India. If India cannot pull of a decent opening show and games after spending $6bn of taxpayers money, many would say, it should have no business to be even talking about itself as an emerging power. In the hyperbole over the opening ceremony, one should also remember that India's supposed "coming out party " as the media never tires of saying, has come at a price - shutting down Delhi, keeping children at home, driving out the poor, and hiding the urban squalor behind colourful games hoardings. Then there's the massive stink of corruption which needs to be investigated after the games is over.

These are some sobering thoughts, many believe, before we are caught again in the delusion of India Shining. Some of the early signs of this infectious fantasy are already on display. One commentator, Harsha Bhogle, crowed, "This is a fantastic opportunity to show how much India respects athletes." Really? India's athletes remain slaves to badly-run sports fiefdoms run by incompetent politicians. That's why a country of 1.2 billion people has only one individual gold medal in the history of the Olympics. A spectacular games can stun the world, but cannot hide the deformities and rot within. But, for the moment, let us wish the athletes godspeed and hope the rest of the games lives up to its opening.

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