Commonwealth Games 2010: The runnersworld.co.uk Guide

Collapsing structures, athletes withdrawing and Dengue fever fears - it's all been kicking off in Delhi. We've got all you need to know ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games.


Posted: 28 September 2010
by Dominique Brady

Some see it as an anachronism, a hangover from the British Empire. But for sports fans, the Commonwealth Games is a multi-sport fiesta, the perfect preparation for the Olympics and an introduction to a new wave of British sporting talent.

Delhi's Commonwealth Games have proved one of the most controversial to date, as Dengue fever fears, construction problems and security threats climax just days before the Games start. As the teams from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland begin to arrive in Delhi the furore appears to be calming - but watch this space. This Commonwealth Games is guaranteed to keep everyone on their toes until the opening ceremony on October 3 - and not just the competitors.

Until then we're on hand with the low down on the crisis so far, what the games are all about and which Brits to look out for in Delhi.

What are the Commonwealth Games?

Every four years the Commonwealth Games brings together approximately 5,000 athletes from 54 Commonwealth nations in 71 teams to take part in an epic multi-sports championships.

The first Commonwealth Games took place in Canada in 1930, where it was originally called the British Empire Games. In the first Games only 11 nations took part over six different sports with a total number of 450 athletes competing.

Now 17 sports are contested over the tournament, including some sports considered not globally popular enough to be included in the Olympics - lawn bowls, squash and netball for example. Tennis will make its first appearance at the Games this year and archery returns after a 28-year hiatus.  

Four Paralympic sports are also contested over 15 events at the Games; athletics, swimming, power lifting and table tennis.

And unlike the unifying spirit of the Olympics, the Commonwealths sees England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland competing as separate teams - so expect national rivalries to come to the fore.

The Indian army were drafted in to rebuild the collapsed bridge

Why are this year's Games so controversial?

Where to start? Controversy has dogged the Delhi Commonwealth Games from the start. Only last week a ceiling fell in the weightlifting arena, the athlete's village was declared unsafe and a footbridge linking a parking area with the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium collapsed injuring 27 people. Fears for athletes' safety increased and the Scottish team delayed their departure.

Such calamity was perhaps always to be expected. All venues were due for completion by August 31 but deadlines were repeatedly missed and safety certificates were received as late as September 6. More worryingly, anti-corruption watchdogs identified 16 Games projects where large-scale corruption is suspected - an embarrassing situation when costs have spiralled to an estimated $6bn. Even an ambassador for the Games, Indian badminton star Saina Nehwal, declared to reporters that Delhi was unfit to hold the tournament - only to later retract the statement.

Team England's chef de mission Craig Hunter remains confident that any problems with construction and infrastructure will be smoothed over by the start of the Games. "We remain extremely optimistic - the Indians are able to turn things around very quickly," he explains.

Construction fears aside, the risk of Dengue fever has also proved a worry for athletes. Dengue fever is a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes which can lead to a range of problems including internal bleeding.

The bad news for competitors is that the athlete's village is located above a Dengue fever black spot on the Yumana river.  Following a late monsoon this year Dengue is rife in Delhi with more than 1,800 cases reported and five deaths.

Commonwealth Games England president Kelly Holmes says English athletes have raised concerns but have been given support and information. "Commonwealth Games England have given clear advice to the England team as a whole and especially to the athletics team," she says. Athletes have been advised to wear long sleeved tops and trousers and apply Deet to exposed skin.

Last but by no means least have been fears about security, and in particular terrorism. Just weeks before the games a busload of Taiwanese tourists were shot and two injured in New Delhi and the British Foreign Office advises a high risk of terrorism throughout India. To prevent a terrorist attack Indian authorities have provided more than 50,000 security staff including army personnel to protect athletes and Games venues. More than 20 Metropolitan police will also be travelling from London as security advisers.

Team England arrives in Delhi

What are our medal chances?

Some of our leading lights in athletics are notably absent from the 2010 Commonwealth Games team list: Jessica Ennis, Jemma Simpson, Mo Farah, Perri-Shakes-Drayton, Martyn Rooney and Michael Rimmer to name just a handful. Two weeks before the Games brought three high profile withdrawals from team England - Christine Ohuruogu and Lisa Dobriskey citing injuries and Phillips Idowu due to safety fears.

A number of factors have deterred some of our most popular athletes. Falling in October, well past the traditional close of the outdoor athletics season, many athletes simply feel they need to rest and recover for next year and tackle any injuries.

UK Athletics head coach Charles Van Commenee instructed British athletes to choose between competing in the Commonwealth Games and next year's indoor season. With the World Championships next August in South Korea the indoor season will provide a much needed practise arena against the world elite.

Combined with security and safety fears, the lure of a Commonwealth medal has lost its sheen for some British athletes.

The good news is that all four British nations are still sending strong teams. England is sending one of its largest ever teams - more than 350 athletes are flying out to Delhi. And while the English team might be lacking in household names, it is by no means lacking in talent. Kelly Holmes is delighted to be sending four athletes from her On Camp with Kelly initiative to compete in the Games - Hannah England, Charlotte Purdue, Emma Jackson and Andrew Osagie. "We have a huge amount of depth in the women's middle distance category and actually the loss of some athletes has opened up the doors for others to compete," says Holmes.

Meanwhile Craig Hunter reminds us that Jessica Ennis' ascendancy began with an unexpected Commonwealth gold in 2006. He told runnersworld.co.uk, "We have a team of experienced and talented athletes as well as some young raw talent who have the potential to podium."

Running talent on show for team England includes European gold 110m hurdle champion Andy Turner, European 100m silver medallist Mark Lewis-Francis and co-holder of the Commonwealth 4x100m relay record Marlon Devonish. The Welsh team boasts a score of runners who proved themselves in Barcelona this summer, including 400m hurdle gold medallist Dai Greene and silver 200m medallist Christian Malcolm. Meanwhile the Scottish team will be sending stalwart athletes including Commonwealth medallists Lee McConnell and Chris Baillie.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprise stars to look out for could be Ciara Mageean who will be representing Northern Ireland in the 800m and 1500m. The talented youngster finished second in the 1500m at the  World Junior Athletics Championships in Canada in August, took silver at World Youth Championships in Italy 2009 - and has more than proved she can succeed against the strongest African runners in her field.

Despite the fact that it's the end of the season, Holmes still expects athletes to step up to the mark: "If people go to the Commonwealth Games it's not a holiday, it's another championships and you have to go out there and do well." England have finished second in the medal table in the last three Games, with 110 medals in 2006 and 166 in 2002. "Maintaining our second place spot in the medal table will be difficult," admits chef de mission Hunter. He cites the withdrawal of English athletes and a strong Indian team who could win a large number of medals in boxing, shooting or wrestling as some of the problems England face. But with other Commonwealth teams also suffering the withdrawal of leading athletes, we really can expect the unexpected for all our British national teams this year in Delhi.

Find out more

Commonwealth Contenders 2010: The English, Scottish and Welsh athletes we can't wait to see on the starting line. 

RW Interviews: Andy Turner | RW Interviews: Marlon Devonish | RW Interviews: Mark Lewis-Francis


'On Camp with Kelly', supported by Aviva since 2004, is Dame Kelly Holmes’ mentoring and education initiative for talented young middle distance athletes. For more info visit www.oncampwithkelly.co.uk.

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Discuss this article

Looking forward to it as some of my first athletic memories are of the Christchurch Games in early 1974 !
Posted: 02/10/2010 at 09:50

One of my favourite races was the 1990 Mens 5000m  when Lloyd of Australia won it from Ngugi and Ian Hamer.

Womens race: 10,000m in Edinburgh 86, when Liz McColgan (then Liz  Lynch) won it. Meadowbank was going mad !


Posted: 02/10/2010 at 10:00

Rob de Castella (Deek) amazing winning marathon in Brisbane 1982  is another great race I remember.
Posted: 04/10/2010 at 12:44

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