Commonpoor Games

Get it? Commonwealth? Commonpoor?  Get it?  Me so clever.

First off, did you hear about Stephen Colbert’s appearance at the US Congress, talking about the rights of undocumented migrant workers?  I love this quote:

So, I’m sure most of you have heard of the controversy surrounding the “national shame” felt by Indians that the athletes’ residence in New Delhi, for the upcoming Commonwealth Games, are not up to standard.  A Canadian “advance team” reports that the residences are intolerable, citing feces on the grounds, dirt in the rooms, non-functioning plumbing, etc.  Then comes word that several Canadian athletes are refusing to compete, for fear of “health and safety concerns” in the Delhi residence.

Several things come to mind:

1. India had wealth and manpower and organizational acumen and time.  They dropped the ball hugely and the Indian government has no one to blame but themselves.  They deserve all the derision being pointed their way.

2. Do people in the “North” realize what was done to an etire slum of indigent in order to accommodate these games?  Before you start feeling sorry for your athletes who might have to sleep in a stinky room, consider that hundreds, and likely thousands, were dispossessed to give them that luxury.  Direct your sympathy to those who truly deserve it, please.

3. Do people in the “North” realize how the site is being built?  Probably largely with underpaid, untrained, impoverished slum-swelling labour whose daily working conditions would horrify most of us.  Many of them would just love to be living full time in these quarters that our athletes deem unsuitable for their “health and safety”.   Again, direct your sympathy to those who truly deserve it.

4. There is photographic evidence of child labour (by which I mean toddler labour) being employed to get the job done on time.  This, of course, plays into all the stereotypes the North has of India as an exploiting, uncaring land of dirt and suffering.  And, for a lot of people living that experience, that stereotype is accurate.  However, this is an opportunity for us to step back and consider the true price of many things we of the developed workld take for granted.  The shoes we wear, the TVs we watch, the mobile phones we use, and the sporting events we enjoy are all the products of the interminable labour of legions of poor and often children.

5. Corollary to #4: Calls for the games to be moved to a “developed” country miss the point.  If they were to be held in England or Australia, for example, the suffering would merely be invisible.  The athletes would still be wearing shoes and jerseys, etc, made by slave labour in the developing world.  So let’s not get all high and mighty about this, shall we?

6. Yeah, I would prefer to sleep in a comfy air conditioned hotel suite than in a hastily built room in which a dog had pooped a couple of days earlier.  But you know what?  If I had the chance to compete in the Commonwealth games in my chosen sport, I would happily sleep on the street and eat garbage for the privilege.  So yes, I’m with the writer of this editorial: if poor accommodations are enough to cause you to cancel your participation, then I don’t ever want you representing me or my country abroad.  Heck, it’s lack of hygiene, it’s not a freakin’ war zone!  Suck it up and learn to appreciate the incredible privilege you enjoy as a tax payer-subsidized athlete being sent abroad to glory in the public eye and to party with your pals afterwards, all on the tab of the hundreds of millions underpaid Indian labourers who built and paid for your rooms.

7. If nothing else comes of this, I hope people in the North come to appreciate the desperate living conditions of the poor of the global South.   You can’t handle the Commonwealth games residences?  Try living in the shacks, shared by rats and neighbours, like the ones in which the labourers who built that residence have to live.  We have it damned easy, in large part at the expense of those who suffer, and it’s about time more of us started to realize it.

8. Why do we even have these big state-funded sporting events anyway?  Dave Feschuk in the Toronto Star foolishly said that it’s “for the athletes”.  Bullshit.  It’s for political capital, both for the host nation and for the nation whose team brings back the most shiny discs.  These things are properly the domain of corporate interests.  Let companies compete for them and run them and pay for them.  Or let’s not have them at all.  Problem solved.

Okay, now I’m pissed off.