Where did it go wrong between the Delhi Games and the media?
Delhi closed the 19th Commonwealth Games in spectacular style on Thursday — a Bollywood finale during which not only the crowd but athletes on the field, TV crews and young helpers swung and shook to the best-of-Bollywood medley.
Best of all, some journalists who perhaps had spent weeks cataloguing corruption allegations, filthy athletes’ flats and half-empty stadiums that hobbled the Games, clapped along and jigged their shoulders in between typing their story for the night on laptops. Others, though not all, smiled and clapped and the mood felt good.
The media’s relationship with the Games and its organisers, especially its pantomime villain and chief local organiser Suresh Kalmadi, has see-sawed. Violent swings in how the Games were portrayed tested Indian authorities’ patience.
“Whatever small amount of credibility you the media had left before the Games has gone,” a top Indian bureaucrat said to me, as we were preparing for me to interview him.
“First you decide India is a shithole, and then suddenly it’s not a shithole.” Did he mean foreign media or Indian media? Both, he said.
Every day has seen Indian commentators soul-searching in articles, editorials and TV panel discussions. They questioned what the event said about India, what image was projected to the world and whether the Games were even worth hosting in the first place. Then pride swelled after a widely praised opening ceremony and as India’s medal count soared.
Aside from the Games’ many problems, from snakes in the Games Village to a collapsed footbridge, the organisers did not help themselves when it came to hosting the media.
The route to the media centre in central Delhi — one of the first things a visiting journalist would see with their pens poised — was accessible through a blink-and-you-miss-it side street that turned into a bumpy track. This set off much grumbling the day I went to collect my media pass there.
On Thursday night, there were rowdy scenes at the stadium entrance I passed through, as journalists were directed and then abruptly refused entry to the media door. Heated exchanges broke out with the guards and then that turned into a mini scrum as the crowd ignored instructions to keep back and pushed their way in.
At the one press conference I attended, the mood was sullen. When Games chief Mike Fennell was seized by a coughing fit while addressing reporters, a voice from the back suggested Fennell had taken a dip in the Games’ swimming pool, which had been blamed for incapacitating athletes with “Delhi belly”. Another reporter asked after Kalmadi’s health because of his non-appearance, which even caused another Games bigwig Mike Hooper to giggle.
The closing ceremony gave the Games a great send-off. What will we remember them by?
(Click here for full coverage of 2010 Commonwealth Games )