With the Commonwealth Games story so far being one of corruption, delays, allegations and counter-allegations, the participants have been caught in the unusual role of silent and concerned spectators.
“This is pretty late. Even the Nehru stadium, where the inauguration is scheduled, is not ready,” says boxer Dinesh Sangwan. “Ideally, we should have been training there (the Talkatora Indoor Stadium, the boxing competition venue) by now, but you don’t have much of a say in these matters.”
Most competitors, however, seem to be taking the corruption allegations and delays in their stride, though it has obviously hampered preparation. In the usual scenario, Indian competitors would have had the advantage not just of crowd support but also of practice in the stadiums they would be competing in. This hasn’t happened, either because the stadiums aren’t ready or because support systems—rifles and ammunition in the case of shooters—are not in place.
Shooter Joydeep Karmakar says the Karni Singh Shooting Range was ready before the test events in February. “I hope they will take care of the other facilities, such as the accommodation, toilets, etc., which looked incomplete then,” Karmakar says. Despite Karmakar’s assertion, the venue suffered widespread damage during the shooting trials held from 30 August-1 September. The ground beneath multiple trap and skeet shooting stations collapsed. Parts of the false ceiling at the 50m range caved in.
Even in terms of crowd support, not everybody feels the home advantage argument will work. Kuntal Roy, chief coach, Sports Authority of India, eastern centre, Kolkata, says there is no home advantage for those participating in athletics events because “no one knows them. This is not cricket or football that everyone would have an opinion,” he adds.
Through all this, the athletes are trying to focus on their training. Boxer Vijender Singh is matter of fact. “Hamara kaam punch maarna hai, kahin bhi fight kara do (Our job is to deliver punches, it doesn’t matter where we fight),” he says.
Delays in the completion of projects, most say, are not new to India. Projects for the Asian Games of 1982 in New Delhi saw delays too—among them the construction of the main, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The first serious trial run to ensure everything was in place at the floodlit stadium was a football match played just 33 days before the games started.
“We Indians have a knack of taking everything down to the last moment,” says boxing coach G.S. Sandhu. He adds that with national pride at stake, the players have little time to think about anything other than their training.
Singh is focusing his energies on a gold. “The preparations are good. There are no major injuries. (We) can’t get disturbed by what’s going (on) around,” says the Beijing Olympics bronze medallist.
Roy says the allegations of corruption or delays in project completion cannot be an excuse for not performing well. “We have to exploit, to our best capacity, what we have,” he adds.
Some of the more critical comments come from a swimming coach. “There is too much bureaucracy and no one cares about the athletes. We have got our priorities wrong. The Games are about athletes and providing them the support and not about building tall structures,” says the coach, who did not want to be identified.
Karmakar says: “I would say keep sports and athletes away from controversies. Often the players perform their best, but without a penny in return. Have sporting hearts. Don’t undermine their spirit.”
That spirit might be the only silver lining so far.