Commonwealth Games: a comedy of errors for India

The Commonwealth Games, hosted in New Delhi, have seen a string of embarrassing issues that could rub some of the sheen off this emerging world power.

B Mathur/Reuters
Volunteers sit in front of a board advertising the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India, on Sept. 22.

The recent setbacks to the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, set to start Oct. 3, could be a comedy of errors – but it's just not funny to the international community or Indians any more.

Organizers of the event have suffered yet another setback, underscoring severe planning inefficiencies when part of the roof of the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium collapsed on Wednesday.

Unlike a day earlier, when a number of laborers were injured when a footbridge near the stadium collapsed, no one was hurt when a small part of a false ceiling fell at the weightlifting venue.

But it is further embarrassment for the games organizers, who already have lost face over a litany of incidents and reports of lack of organization in recent days.

In fact, there is growing serious doubt over whether there is any hope at all that the games will be able to be staged with any degree of success.

Three athletes – two Britons and one Australian – have now pulled out over security concerns, and some members of the Scottish team have delayed their trip to Delhi.

List of embarrassing issues

This week has seen a perfect storm of embarrassing events for India. Enough for a check list:

Possible terrorist attack? Tick. On Sunday, two Taiwanese nationals were injured in a shooting at one of Delhi's main tourist attractions, the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi.

Construction woes? Tick. Tuesday's footbridge collapse has left around 25 people injured, a handful of them seriously.

International condemnation of conditions? Tick. Also on Tuesday, Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennell said conditions at the Games' athletes’ village were unsatisfactory. It was then revealed that delegations from countries including New Zealand, Canada, and Scotland had strongly protested about the quality of accommodation after seeing filthy conditions in rooms to be occupied by athletes.

Health concerns? Tick. Delhi remains in the grips of the worst monsoon in decades, accompanied by a dengue fever epidemic that appears to have affected thousands of residents.

Corruption? Tick. In early August, a report was released outlining the scale of corruption that had taken place in the construction of the stadia.

Problems? What problems?

But Indian politicians argue things are coming along just fine and the games will continue as planned.

"These rooms are clean to both you and us. However it may not appear so to some others. They want certain standards in hygiene and cleanliness which may differ from our perception," said Games Organizing Committee secretary-general Lalit Bhanot at a press conference on Tuesday.

"I would like to tell you very categorically that these minor glitches and hitches do come around ... but to make out as the whole thing is collapsing – I am sorry, we do not agree with that," said Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit on Wednesday.

The Commonwealth Games chief is now seeking emergency talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who earlier ordered organizers to submit daily reports on the preparations.

Just what does all this mean for the games? Though this has raised the question of whether or not the games will be canceled, there are no indications the event will be called off or shifted to another center (Melbourne, which hosted the last Commonwealth Games four years ago, had earlier offered to take over).

Still, there is no doubt that India's reputation has suffered an enormous blow, possibly large enough to rub some of the sheen off the emerging world power's economic credentials.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.