Comment

15 Feb

Athletes planning to travel to India for the Commonwealth Games this week may find themselves in the heartbreaking position of making a choice between their safety and their dreams.

Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive Mike Hooper was this morning unable to give a guarantee the event will proceed.

For months Commonwealth Games Federation committees, coaches, athletes and political leaders have questioned whether India would be ready to host the games by September. With ten days before the opening ceremony the first Australian athlete to withdraw, Dani Samuels, chose to sacrifice the opportunity to earn the gold medal desired for her whole life for her own safety. It takes a great deal of guts to make that decision.

But it should not be the responsibility of individual athletes to have to make this choice. If we cannot ensure their safety we should not be sending them at all.

The Commonwealth Games Federation should feel ashamed. After failing to meet successive deadlines for over a year, extreme terrorist alerts, corruption allegations and dangerous health epidemics, Delhi should have been stripped of its opportunity to host the games long ago. It now places coaches, athletes, and their families in an entirely unwarranted position.

When a supposedly world class venue is described as ‘unfit for human habitation’ it reflects very poorly on the host country and is an embarrassment for the Commonwealth Games Federation. With only 10 days to go till the opening of the games many of the venues are unfinished and the athlete’s village is not ready for its intended occupants by a far stretch.

Imagine you’ve spent at least the last two years of your life dedicating your time, your body and your money to peak at exactly this moment to find in the penultimate hour it all gets cancelled. The warning signs have been flashing in neon for over a year. Questions of why the roadblocks weren’t heeded have been left until much too late.

It should not be the responsibility of an individual athlete to have to stand up and say the risk is not worth taking. The Commonwealth Games Federation has a responsibility to the young people who have dedicated their time and effort to represent their country and to inspire other young people to work hard to reach their goals.

All the athletes deserve our support whether they decide to go or not but a decision needs to be made as a team. Australia’s love affair with elite athletes puts an unacceptable amount of pressure on individual athletes who might otherwise not consider it worthwhile to take the risk.                    The sporting leaders of Australia should not have to face matters of geo-political security. Certainly not in an environment which has proven to be highly volatile and incapable of reaching the basic standards required.

Those who argue it is up to individual athletes to make a call on their own level of comfort in competing have a point, but that decision should only be based on firm safety assurances by the Federation and host country. With security experts saying there is an 80 per cent chance of a terrorist attack the risks clearly outweigh the rewards. If we cannot ensure the safety of our athletes to a reasonable extent then I say let the terrorists win this one and let our athletes aspire to the Olympic Games in 2012.

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