Editor-At-Large: These costly games are all about ego and do nothing for sport

Janet Street-Porter
Saturday 22 October 2011 22:24

International sport has become the costly badge of entry to a premier league of nations. Today, an elaborately choreographed ceremony will take place in Delhi, marking the official opening of the Commonwealth Games. Hosting these events is the ultimate accolade for modern politicians. It means you're a top dog; your country can be taken seriously as a world power.

Our own leaders are convinced that the Olympics will regenerate swathes of London, galvanise obese kids into taking up participatory sport, attract millions of big-spending tourists to bolster flagging visitor numbers, and provide jobs and opportunities as we emerge from a serious recession. The super-phoney word "legacy" is constantly used to justify an obscene budget, large-scale demolition of communities, and the erection of white elephant buildings.

When was sport designated this miracle cure for modern society? Today's extravaganza in Delhi, with its flag-waving, dodgy patriotism, huge flotilla of non-sporting leeches (the officials, the security people, the press, the sponsors, the foreign dignitaries and, of course, our own Prince Charles and his lovely wife, fresh from a luxury spa break nearby), its special catering, blanket television coverage and guaranteed traffic chaos, is just another stop-off point on the modern international sporting gravy train. These games are costing more than twice the previous event, held in Melbourne in 2006 – the Indian government has splashed out around $3.8bn (£2.4bn), a figure it cannot afford.

No wonder that last week there were angry demonstrations from disgruntled Delhi citizens demanding "schools not stadiums".

As for the stories of doom and gloom in our press, much of the whingeing is just racism under another name. Of course things were unfinished and the standard of accommodation in the athlete's village was not good. On another level, the rush to patch things up guaranteed work for the road menders, shrub planters and cleaners, carried out by Delhi's poorest citizens, bussed into the site in their thousands to sort things out. There was no threat of Dengue fever, and the city wasn't sitting under a cloud of Deet.

Delhi is a beautiful city, with world-class monuments, a stunning series of set-piece civic buildings, and a road plan and urban planning in New Delhi which should be the envy of Londoners. This city is green in a way we cannot imagine. But it also contains huge slum areas, extreme wealth, grinding poverty and appalling traffic. Millions lack clean water or a job. Graft and corruption are endemic, which is why the plans to stage the games have been behind schedule and over budget.

The committee organisers admit this is just the first step in their ultimate goal of securing the Olympics. Ironic, from a nation where cricket, a game seriously played only in 10 countries of the world, is the most popular sport. It's not as if India has a track record in athletics, and a recent survey in an Indian magazine revealed that an astonishing 111 Indian athletes have failed drug tests so far this year.

I don't blame the bigwigs of Delhi or the Indian president for wanting to be in the new super-nation sporting club. They are only trying to emulate China, where 1.5 million citizens were removed from their homes to build a series of architectural white elephants for the Olympics that no one can use now the athletes have gone home. China spent $33bn on those games – the most expensive PR job in history. We're doing exactly the same – £308m will be wasted on a media centre in east London which will be used for only two weeks. Disgusting.

The new Metro system in Delhi, finished for the Games, will give the city a big boost and improve life for its millions of commuters. But what's the real legacy of these games? Who will want to visit the site next month, next year?

Putting sport first shows a warped sense of priorities. Last Sunday, I visited the Delhi crafts museum. Its superb collection and its live displays by artisans and performers showcase everything that makes India special. A highly refined culture has produced world-class artefacts. Ceilings leaked, rooms were closed, exhibits shoved together in appalling lighting. I doubt the budget for museums will be increased, when sport exerts such a mind-numbing effect on our leaders.

The Commonwealth Games and the Olympics have nothing to do with sport and everything to do with egos.

Ryder Cup is a knuckle-draggers' convention

I thought golf was about hitting a ball into a hole with a stick. Now I realise that at championship level, it's an activity that requires leading players to bring a woman to sit in the background in a fetching outfit, crossing her legs in high heels, preferably with a mane of artfully teased blond hair and a winning smile. The Ryder Cup tournament, in which Europe takes on the USA in Wales, is a showcase for Neanderthal attitudes. Not only are the wives and girlfriends of the players required to wear matching outfits, but they have been ordered to strut about for photographers at every opportunity, as if their presence in Cardiff were as important as the action on the greens. Forget the Wags: this bunch of bimbos represents a giant step backward for womankind. As usual, the event kicked off with a lavish opening ceremony, involving royalty (Prince Charles) and another blonde in a red frock, Katherine Jenkins, singing a song. Can you imagine female golfers ordering their partners to pitch up in matching blazers?

Police force in its worst sense

Lawyer Mark Saunders was shot dead by police after a five-hour siege in Chelsea, west London, in May 2008. At the coroner's court last week, the jury was told that there was "confusion across the police command structure" during the stand-off and that in spite of a terrified neighbour repeatedly dialling 999, no one came to her aid.

One senior officer told the hearing that she felt the police were justified in shooting Mr Saunders, even though he was drunk and confused, because he posed a real risk to others.

That may have been the case, but why did it take 59 officers to deal with just one man?

Two Jags runs out of road

My ticket inspector pal tells me John Prescott enjoys a free rail pass. He may be able to enjoy the stiff breezes on Hull station, but the former deputy prime minister had a miserable week. He failed to get elected Labour Party treasurer, and one of his greatest environmental achievements, the M4 bus lane, is to be axed. This 3.5-mile stretch of motorway is always empty, apart from taxis, a few coaches, and swanky limousines bearing senior politicians or royalty. Only 14 fixed-penalty notices have been issued to trespassers, so even the police thought it a waste of time. Why should those rich enough to afford a cab from Heathrow be entitled to cruise past poor motorists? The bus lane always seemed a very undemocratic device for a Labour minister to champion.

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