I knew instinctively that the world had started seeing the larger picture of the Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi when in one of my recent interviews, an overseas journalist asked me about the importance of the Games to India’s emergence as a soft power. With 155 days to go for the start, there is growing awareness about India and its incredible draw.
Perhaps, that is the reason we continue to hear good news from countries as far flung as Australia and England. In the past week, the Australian Commonwealth Games Association CEO, Mr Perry Crosswhite and Commonwealth Games England Chairman Sir Andrew Foster have reassured their athletes that Delhi will be safe and secure for their athletes and have said they will both bring the biggest contingents to a CWG outside their home nations. Between these two teams, I guess they will account for nearly 1200 participants in the Games.
From a sporting perspective, I was delighted to hear that Australia has named a preliminary squad of 69 track and field athletes including world pole vault champion Steve Hooker. Australia has also announced a 48-member swimming contingent including 2008 Olympic champion Stephanie Rice and former world record holder Eamon Sullivan. Olympic silver medallist Geoff Huegill, who has lost 45kg in a year and a half, is also in the squad. Double Olympic gold medalist swimmer Rebecca Adlington and world champs Liam Tancock and Gemma Spofforth will spearhead England’s challenge.
I was also pleased when I heard that England’s Bradley Wiggins, who had three Olympic gold medals and five world championship titles against his name, has decided to focus on competing in the Commonwealth Games ahead of the World Championship to be held in Australia in September 2010. And, in Adelaide, World and Olympic champion Anna Meares, who is expected to compete in three events in Delhi, has said all the Aussie riders were looking forward to locking horns with their British rivals and the strong Kiwi team at the Games.
Indeed, when the Queen’s Baton was in Sydney, Melbourne and Gold Coast this month, we saw how sport can be a marvellous bridge between societies. Friendship through Sport is one of our key themes and we will see this emerge in a big way when the baton reaches India from the Wagah Border on June 25, 2010.
Back home, as we prepare to host the CGF’s CoCom next month, we are very confident that we are on course to organising a great Games that will leave an impact in the minds of all concerned — athletes, technical officials, sponsors, broadcasters and other media, volunteers, spectators and, above all, the citizens of Delhi. We have got a tremendous response for our volunteer programme Delhi United, inspiring confidence that the city’s young and old alike have started taking ownership of the Games. Besides, I can see a growing awareness about Olympic sport in India.
Let me leave you to mull over a statement by Australia’s Chef de Mission. A wonderful marathon runner in his time and Mayor of the Games Village in 2006, Steve Moneghetti told the media on the sidelines of the Queen’s Baton Relay 2010 in Melbourne that he is really looking forward to returning to Delhi. “It’s such a cosmopolitan place and a place you really fall in love with,” he said. I am sure each athlete will say the same after the Games. Yes, indeed, it is time for everyone to discover what a beautiful city Delhi is and what a wonderful country India is.