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Should the Aussies go to Delhi?

Nick Bryant | 07:29 UK time, Wednesday, 22 September 2010

"Shame Games" was how the news magazine India Today previewed the forthcoming Delhi Commonwealth Games on its cover in early August, illustrating its story with the Tiger mascot suffering terrible stage-fright when caught in the international spotlight and realising it was naked.

An Indian worker walks in front of a collapsed bridge next to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium

Bemoaning "missed deadlines, bloated budgets, multiple agencies working at cross purposes" (21 at last count), the magazine editorialized that far from being a showcase for modern India the games "threaten to be our fortnight of shame".

I happened to be in Delhi that week, and witnessed for myself the frenzied, round-the-clock preparations, the half-complete buildings and the unopened new roads. It is not as if Delhi and chaos are complete strangers. But the notion that the city was about to host the biggest sporting event in the country's history just three months hence required an almost Rushdie-esque flight of imagination.

On the plus side, the revamped Jawaharal Nehru Stadium was enshrouded in its new high-tech super-structure, which looked very New India. On the negative, it was surrounded by construction site rubble and open drains, which recalled the old.

If things looked pretty inauspicious then, they appear to be even less auspicious now, as my friend and colleague Soutik Biswas reports from the Indian capital.

A week after smug old Sydney held 10th anniversary celebrations marking "the best ever Olympics," there is talk of more Australian athletes pulling out of what threatens to be the worst ever Commonwealths.

Already the world discus champion Dani Samuels has withdrawn, citing security and health concerns. The Australian Sports Minister Mark Arbib - who, for the uninitiated, is one of the powerbrokers who conspired to oust the former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd - is predicting that more athletes could follow suit.

The Australian government has already warned of a "high risk of terrorist attack" in Delhi during next month's games, and Kevin Rudd, the new foreign affairs minister, has enjoined people to take careful heed. Certainly, security concerns add an extra layer of complication and fear.

As we reported last week, pre-Games knocking stories are as familiar a part of the build-up these days as a torch relay, ticket scam or doping scandal. If you had read the press in the lead-up to both the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and the Melbourne Games in 1956, you would have expected both to have been complete disasters.

But there is something qualitatively different in Delhi, because the knocking stories ring so very true. Perhaps things will come good, as they so often do in India, at the last-minute and in the nick of time. But a simple question: should Australian athletes, or indeed those from any other country, take that chance?


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