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Running towards disaster.

datePosted on 14:19, September 24th, 2010 by Pablo

News that preparations for the Delhi Commonwealth Games are in disarray, and that Indian Games officials deliberately misled NZ and other foreign officials about the state of play with regard to the preparations, should give those responsible for sending the NZ team serious cause for concern. It fact, they should seriously reconsider whether sending a team is worth the risks. Several foreign athletes have already declined to participate due to their concerns about security. Other countries have delayed sending their teams and some are considering withdrawing entirely. NZ needs to do the same. No amount of temporary athletic glory–and the bureaucratic empire-building that rides on the back of athletic accomplishment–should overcome a reasoned and rational appraisal of the risks involved in sending Kiwis into a potentially dangerous situation. The hard fact is that unlike the football and rugby World Cups, where local and international sanctioning organisations work hand-in-hand to ensure that high standards are maintained across the board, this edition of the Commonwealth Games is singular in its lack of coordination and oversight. The results of that misadventure are now plain to see, and yet NZ and other countries have wavered about whether to send their delegations less they risk causing offense to the hosts that lied to them.

Let ‘s take just two dimensions of risk: health and security. Pictures of the atrocious conditions of the athlete’s village have now surfaced, including leaking and broken toilets, seriously dirty washrooms and bedrooms, bedding that has dog prints and human excrement on them, exposed wiring, broken windows, faulty lighting, garbage strewn walkways, staircases and balconies with defective railings–the range of construction and finishing problems runs the gamut. A pedestrian bridge connecting a parking lot to a stadium collapsed, which raises questions about sub par construction standards, possible corruption in the awarding of contracts, inept or negligent construction oversight or some unhappy combination of the above. Given the revelations that Games officials deliberately misled foreign delegations about the status of the construction project, it is entirely reasonable to ask whether this lack of ethics was pervasive throughout the build up to the Games, and what that means in terms of the integrity of the venues.

Let us take the concern further. If this is the state of the physical construction required to host the games, what will be the condition of the kitchens in which athlete’s food is prepared, the personal hygiene standards of those preparing such food, and the cleanliness standards of the public restrooms, food vending outlets and other public spaces in which athletes will find themselves? Will NZ be securing its own dedicated cooking and abolution spaces and if not, how does it propose to guarantee that its athletes will be free of the risk of infection, contamination and other human-caused disease (to say nothing of other maladies such as the mosquito-borne dengue fever epidemic currently raging in Delhi and to which the simple of solution of mass fumigation campaigns such as those used in SE Asia is apparently unheard of or not implemented)?

Then there is the issue of security. It turns out that rival Indian security agencies are engaged in turf battles that have impeded intelligence sharing and real-time communications. Although the Indian Army can be considered competent and focused on deterring potential threats, local police forces are less professional in approach and susceptible  to corruption, infiltration by extremists and simple incompetence. Given that Pakistani-based militants have already issued direct threats against the Games and conflict in Kashmir has escalated in recent weeks, the scene is set for a major terrorist attack on the Games, be it against a foreign delegation, a specific event or the host arenas themselves. The NZ government is unable to give assurances that something nasty will not happen because the Indian government, for all its blowhard security rhetoric, cannot offer absolute guarantees that the Games will be safe (again, owing to distrust and disunity between national, state and local security agencies). In fact, NZ already has travel advisories in place for India irrespective of the Games, so if anything those need to be updated in light of the realities on the ground there.

The bottom line is the Delhi Games are not only in trouble but are trouble in the making. It therefore behooves the National government, to say nothing of MFAT and the NZSIS/NAB etc., to take the lead in determining whether it is worth risking NZ lives by sending them to a second-tier athletic competition in which their health and safety cannot be guaranteed. After all, it was the government that intervened to tell NZ cricket that playing matches in Zimbabwe was not advisable because of the nature of the regime rather than any specific threat to the cricketers themselves. In this case the threats are multiple and real even if the host government is friendly. Should not the NZ government be as concerned in this instance as it ostensibly was with the cancelled cricket tour?

It may be diplomatically uncomfortable, and personally disappointing for the athletes involved, for the government to pull the plug on NZ participation in the Games, but that is a decision that should not be left to those who were duped by the Indian con in the first place and one which should place more value on the long term welfare of its athletes than on the immediate potential for medals that they may accrue.

**UPDATE** No sooner had I posted this than cyclist Greg Henderson announced he was withdrawing from the games citing–surprise, surprise–health and security concerns (can you imagine riding in a cycle road race in New Delhi, where the safety and security of the racers over distances of more than 100 kilometers is entrusted to local volunteers and security officials responsible for keeping traffic off of the course?). That a cyclist has to be the first to admit the obvious, even if he is doing so out of concern for his long-term professional career rather than that of his fellow athletes, is indicative of the lack of wider perspective exhibited by NZ’s athletic overseers. Which is why the government needs to get involved.

**UPDATE 2** The army of cleaners pressed into service at the last minute by the Games organisers includes 7 and 8 year old girls. I wonder what their wages and terms of employment are? Also, various Indian officials have claimed that the complaints are evidence of Anglo-Saxon racism and enduring colonial attitudes. To which I say: Good job guys. Nothing like addressing the root problem full on.

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14 Responses to “Running towards disaster.”

  1. DaveW on September 24th, 2010 at 17:47

    how does it propose to guarantee that its athletes will be free of the risk of infection, contamination and other human-caused disease (to say nothing of other maladies such as the mosquito-borne dengue fever epidemic currently raging in Delhi and to which the simple of solution of mass fumigation campaigns such as those used in SE Asia is apparently unheard of or not implemented)?

    Ahh this story seems to show mass fumigation underway at the village.
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/sport/4149438/NZ-objects-to-Commonwealth-Games-village

    I did wonder how they could even pretend to do more than lip service to security in regards to the road cycling, it really will be bedlam for the racers over there the local security would struggle to just keep livestock and locals off the roads let alone deal effectively with any terrorist or millitant threat.
    I do love India I have spent 4-5 months traveling there by bike and will enjoy traveling there many more times, but an event like this is just beyond what they can do mainly due to the corruption, security and environmental issues that plague the country.

  2. Pablo on September 24th, 2010 at 17:56

    Thanks DaveW, for the link. I had seen photos of isolated spraying but no reports of comprehensive fumigation. Unfortunately, that still leaves the human element….

  3. Quentin on September 24th, 2010 at 22:00

    Thanks for your Brief. I believe it was not a wise move to ask India to host the Games because of it’s poor record of poverty. Also in a country that does not have the infrastructure of reliable and accurate building practices I cannot see this whole venue reliable. Sad. When the world descents on India they will (maybe) not get to see the real India and that concerns me heaps. $3-4 Billion for what???

  4. DaveW on September 24th, 2010 at 22:07

    For what?
    As always, for the finest ego trip someone else’s money can buy.

  5. Pablo on September 24th, 2010 at 22:08
  6. Hugh on September 24th, 2010 at 22:20

    There goes India’s hopes of hosting the Olympic Games…

  7. Quentin on September 25th, 2010 at 08:15

    Thanks Pablo. Interesting article…so much more going on that is not all that healthy.

  8. Chris Trotter on September 25th, 2010 at 17:52

    Excellent post, Pablo.

    How I wish the NZ news media had journalists of equivalent expertise to your own.

  9. Pablo on September 25th, 2010 at 20:14

    Thanks Chris:

    As you well know, there are some very good journos in NZ. The problem is that the big media outlets do not hire them full time or more than occasionally accept their harder-edged or in-depth stories. Per force, that leaves it up to “alternative” media outlets to do so.

  10. Stuart Mackey on September 26th, 2010 at 16:34

    Bring back Lord Curzon!
    Bring back Sir Charles Napier!
    Long live the Raj!

  11. Stuart Mackey on September 26th, 2010 at 16:52

    As you well know, there are some very good journos is NZ. The problem is that the big media outlets do not hire them full time or more than occasionally accept their harder-edged or in-depth stories. Per force, that leaves it up to “alternative” media outlets to do so.

    And that is a problem that, I think, drastically effects a nation. If we do not have information that is reliable or know what is going on then we become, or are, subject to manipulation. But if MSM is subject itself, for its survival, to marketing to the lowest common denominator, then how does one raise the level of the lowest common denominator?

  12. Pablo on September 26th, 2010 at 17:10

    Stuart:

    You lost me with that first comment. The post is not a call to neo-colonialism but an objection to corruption, incompetence, lack of oversight and the placing of organisational benefit above the health and security of athletic participants.

    Assuming of course that is what you were driving at with the piss-take.

    As for the second comment, I would suggest that a return to teaching emphasis on (international as well as national) current affairs and history in primary and secondary schools will go some ways towards counteracting the dumbing down of “real” news coverage by media management and presenters that themselves have little comprehension of the serious issues at play around them–that, and the expansion of alternative news outlets that cater to various niche markets of “real” news-hungry people.

  13. Stuart Mackey on September 26th, 2010 at 18:45

    You lost me with that first comment. The post is not a call to neo-colonialism but an objection to corruption, incompetence, lack of oversight and the placing of organisational benefit above the health and security of athletic participants.

    A reference to their attitudes towards certain practices, and I am sure that they would never have tolerated this current nonsense.
    And yes, it was to be taken with tongue wedged firmly in cheek

    If we are to get improved schooling on such matters as you suggest, then we must also look closely at the teachers, and why it is no longer taught compulsory. I would also look at how much politics goes on in such matters in the classroom, as some of the things I hear from schools are somewhat disturbing.

  14. Pablo on September 26th, 2010 at 19:32

    Stuart:

    Thanks for the clarification.

    As far as school curricula goes, one would think that as a country increasingly dependent on non-western immigration for labour market necessities, the NZ school curricula would promote a shared sense of national historical tradition and outlook on world history even while admitting cultural diversity. Moreover, I do not see that such curricula will necessarily become politicised or PC’d into milquetoast so long as alternative perspectives are included and balanced in the text.

    My point being that as much as science and maths, an informed sense of history and politics is just as important to a skilled labour force in a knowledge-based value added export economy. Media attention to serious issues would just be a logical consequence of the strengthening of public knowledge of current affairs and history.

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