Razzle dazzle them, and they’ll beg you for more

By Sehreen Qureshi

The Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India began earlier this month. On 3 October, Prince Charles and Indian President Pratibha Patil jointly declared the Games open at Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in front of a crowd of almost 60,000. The audience stood for India’s national anthem while drummers beat the countdown to the opening.

As soon as the countdown ended a pyrotechnics display signalled the launch of an enormous helium balloon which rose 80 feet above the ground and exhibited the names of each country as its athletes were led out. Before the entry of 6700 athletes participating from 71 countries into the enormous stadium, a welcoming performance by schoolchildren, dancers and singers brought the crowd to its feet.

It all began for India in 2003 at the Commonwealth Games Federation general assembly in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where, by a process of bidding, India was declared the next country to host the Commonwealth Games (CWGs). India won by a margin of 46 votes to 22 against Canada, marking Canada’s fifth attempt to host the Games.

Under the motto “New frontiers and friendships”, India promised each participating country that it would provide $100,000 along with air tickets, boarding, lodging and transport. Business Today Magazine estimates that the Games’ cost exceeded the organiser’s expectations, reaching almost $15.47bn. This makes the CWGs 2010 the most expensive Games ever. Earlier that year, India had shown that it had the resources and infrastructure necessary for a large sporting event when it hosted the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad.

The organisers of the CWGs this year signed a memorandum of understanding with the UN Environment Programme to show their intention to host “sustainable games”. The Thyagaraj stadium which was constructed for the Games was intended to be completely environmentally friendly.

Despite this intention, a number of environmental controversies arose. City residents protested against the felling of heritage trees in the Siri Fort area for a road-widening project. Protestors went as far as to file a public interest petition to the Supreme Court of India.

The Court appointed Charles Correa, an architect, to assess the situation and he severely criticised the designs on ecological grounds. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court allowed construction to continue on the grounds that “much time had been lost and the damage caused to the environment could not be undone”.

The CWGs village, located on the flood plains of Yamuna, has also been the subject of some controversy. In the run up to the Games, there were concerns over living conditions for the athletes staying in the village. A day before the opening, an official on the Indian lawn bowling team was taken from the village to hospital diagnosed with dengue fever, the first case of this mosquito-borne disease at the Games. There were renewed fears over the spread of the illness, which already struck at least 3500 people in Delhi this year.

At one point in the run-up it seemed unclear whether the country’s first ever CWG event would go ahead, as both national and international media heavily criticised everything related to the Games. There were reports of corruption scandals amongst members of the organising committee, as well as the reports on the “filthy and unliveable conditions” of the athletes’ village. Regardless, a dazzling opening ceremony kicked off the CWGs in Delhi, watched live by an audience of three billion people around the world.