The XIX Commonwealth Games in New Delhi were in a hot, crowded place and they got off to an extremely slow start.
The athlete’s village, which was supposed to be the jewel, wasn’t ready and its unsanitary conditions threatened to keep many of the 6,000 athletes from 71 countries and territories home in the safety of Europe, Australia or Canada.
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But the athletes showed up en masse in spite of Delhi’s deficiencies. Everyone crossed their fingers, rolled up their sleeves and got down to the business of competing at one of the world’s historic multi-sport gatherings.
Somehow, it all worked out.
The momentum that developed was striking. Athletes took over with their performances and diverted attention from what was lacking in the host city to what was present in the spirit of international sport.
By the middle of these Commonwealth Games, once tickets got into the hands of the public, the magnificent stadiums filled up.
There was also a vibrant atmosphere that flourished because the Indian athletes excelled once given the chance to compete on home soil and before adoring crowds.
In wrestling, world champion Sushil Kumar delivered overwhelming Commonwealth gold. The people were literally hanging from the balcony trying to get a look at him.
The noise from 60,000 fans at Nehru Stadium was deafening as they urged on the surprise winners of the women’s 4x400-metre relay.
It was inspiring to hear the Indians belt out their national anthem in unison.
“There’s a lot more to this than winning medals,” said Diane Cummins, the Canadian who won the 800-metre bronze.
“I guarantee you that most of the spectators here haven’t been to an international meet of this calibre. If it’s not for us, it’s for the people. It takes a competition like this in a country like this for our sport to grow. That’s why I’m here.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London 2012 organizing committee.
Coe is a former Commonwealth and Olympic champion himself and one of the world’s most respected figures in sport.
“If we want the benefits that sport creates then we need to build a global capacity for sport,” Coe figured.
“That means you occasionally have to take it out of your own backyard to more challenging places. Is it worth it? Yes it is. Smart people think their way through it.”
In the end that’s what the athletes did. They embarked on New Delhi with open minds and the willingness to make the best of it.
That’s why the Games came to India.