I was never into sports when I was a kid. My older siblings were athletic and sporty, but much as I wanted to emulate them, I could not quite keep up. My sister played field hockey at the national level, but after my first experience of the thwack of a hockey stick on my unprotected shins, I trembled with fear at the thought of joining her and her teammates at their practice sessions. I loved watching cricket (who didn’t?), but the sight of that hard leather ball hurtling towards me scared the daylights out of me, so I wasn’t much of a batsman. My bowling sucked–I think I was the only aspiring spinner capable of bowling wide!
Nevertheless, I’d always loved following sports until I came to the U.S., and had to reconcile myself to a life without cricket coverage. (A sad, sad, life, I tell you.) Nearly two decades after I arrived in the land of the NFL and NBA, I am still relatively clueless about American sports, I must admit. Yes, I do try to keep up with who won the World Series (that’s baseball, right?) and whatnot, but that’s about it.
But ask me about my favorite teams and players, or what I think about Barry Bonds and the whole steroids issue, or which pro-football owner funds right-wing Republicans, or which basketball players are also politically left-leaning, and, lo and behold, I’ll likely be able to say something halfway intelligent.
I owe this smattering of familiarity with American sports to one Dave Zirin, sports columnist for The Nation and several other print and online publications, regular commentator on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Morning Joe (go figure!) whose inimitable knack for blending sports, politics, and hilarity knows no bounds. The guy is being hailed as one of the most exciting sports commentators around, and rightly so, methinks (although I can’t name another!). Read Zirin once, or listen to his XM radio show, and regardless of whether you are an American sports fanatic or a dabbler like me, you will be hooked. Necessarily, most of Zirin’s writing focuses on the American scene, but he has, over the last couple of years, been covering more and more international sporting events.
Zirin’s latest piece in The Nation expertly dissects the politics of the Commonwealth Games, which are slated to begin in Delhi in less than two weeks’ time. The preparations for the games have been, not to put too fine a point on it, an unmitigated disaster. But the Urban Development Minister, S. Jaipal Reddy told reporters, in that cavalier way that Indian politicians do when they respond to crises beyond their ability to manage: ”I am as confident and as cool as ever about our organizing. These are all minor hiccups.”
As Zirin points out, the $6 billion Games “might not go on”:
I don’t know if the CWG [Commonwealth Games] has created goodwill, but as the 2010 Games are set to start in Delhi, we are getting a very good understanding of empire, at least the 21st century variant. The games are teetering on an unprecedented implosion and the problem is not just that India, a country where 46% of the children are underweight, is spending $2.5 billion on athletic facilities alone. The problem is not just that India, a country where 42% of the people live under the World Bank poverty line of $1.25 a day, promised $100,000 to every country’s delegation to secure the games (what is called in less refined circles “a bribe.”) And the problem is not just that this state of affairs raises the question about whether India, with all its nouveau economic might, should be playing footstool for the inert Queen’s “Empire Games.”
The games might not go on because the CWG facilities built at great economic and social cost have been flagged as a serious health hazard. In preparing the various arenas, dozens of workers have been grievously injured in accidents due to faulty materials and equipment. This week alone a ceiling collapsed at the weightlifting venue and a bridge crumbled outside the main staging ground, Nehru Stadium, injuring 27.
Read the rest of Zirin’s piece in The Nation, and if you like what you read, check out his weekly column, Edge of Sports, and his XM radio show, Edge of Sports Radio (which is available as a podcast on iTunes–don’t you love technology?!).