La Riposte

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Commonwealth Games: Slumdogs vs. Millionaires

The recent controversy surrounding the preparations for the Commonwealth Games in India ignores the root of the problem; that there is a vastly different standard of living in the “core” regions of the West, and those of “periphery” states which, yes, include even large countries such as India.

His home destroyed to improve
 the ambiance for visitors.
Let’s consider housing. The real story, that of thousands of poor Indians being displaced as their slums were razed by bulldozers to make Commonwealth athlete and guest housing more presentable was hijacked by the steady stream of athletes boycotting the games because the housing and security (from accidents, crime, and disease) were not up to Western standards. But the housing, security, and healthcare available to those athletes, even under the worst circumstances, are an order of magnitude better than the majority of citizens in the host country are obliged to live with every day – and similarly considerably better than many citizens of visiting Commonwealth countries such as Bangladesh, Cameroon, Malaysia, and Nigeria.

Notably, the countries complaining about the conditions in New Delhi have nearly all been from the more privileged of the Commonwealth nations – those with predominantly white populations and high standards of living. The source of the problem can be seen by looking back at the start of the games – which were originally called the British Empire Games in 1930, and only took on their new and somewhat more egalitarian title in the 1960s. But the real problem is the dual standard that remains worldwide as a result of the colonial imperialism without which, there would be no games, and no problem.

Colonial possessions, including India were systematically exploited for resources, a trend that continues to this day, and there is some irony in the fact that a nation where so many still live in abject poverty would spend 7.5 billion dollars on an athletic event where the only common bond shared by most of the 54 member states is that they were colonized or had their indigenous population exploited by Great Britain for over a century. 

Perhaps these games will serve to highlight for the privileged upper-class of the world that the conditions under which they would not deign to live for a few weeks are the daily reality for billions of their fellow humans around the world who live on less than $1.25 per day. If that was the message people took from this, maybe these games would be worth the cost – but instead, the focus seems to be on the privileged athletes themselves – how shocking that they, who are blessed to play games for a living, should have to spend even a little time in the real world.

- Edward H. Carpenter

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