Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Common Health Games?

The fact that teams and individual athletes are beginning to pull out of attending India's pending Commonwealth Games in Delhi is unquestionable - but is the nature of the health scare debatable?  One of the Indian officials responsible for cleaning up the contested athletes' apartments complex noted that standards of cleanliness might be different for some nations in the West - a fascinating moment of "relativism" at work.  The comment is both startling and, in a sense, apt - are there universal standards of cleanliness?

If societies are to be encouraged to develop their own belief systems, and cultural values - if multiculturalism is to be allowed to flourish even in a globally-connected capitalist system, which India is clearly a triumphant recent member of - then can they also continue to maintain their own particular, indigenous levels of hygiene?  Might the pampered Australians, or Europeans, expect a sparkling deep clean that in India, with its monsoons and other challenges, would be simply absurd?  Or is there a danger here of a reverse Orientalising? - a romanticisation of the rustic, the dirty, the "foreign" as unhealthy?

This seems a very awkward balancing beam to navigate.  On the one hand, those undertaking to host such events should aspire to the same levels of excellence as, say, the Chinese government showed at the Olympics - thus, not Western standards, but simply elite standards.  On the other hand, how clean is clean?  If stories of the Delhi complex are true, then exposed wiring, overflowing toilets, dirty monsoon water, wandering dogs, and collapsing walkways sound more like an abandoned work site under duress than a high-functioning home for the world's best athletes.

This doesn't sound like India or its standards, so much as a sub-standard error of judgement.  Somewhere, someone failed to prioritise this flagship structure, or recognise its potentially scandalously damaging symbolic value.  India, with its vast population and rich history, has been in the news of late for being very 21st century.  One hopes this mess will be sorted soon, and it can put its best foot forward by start of the Games.
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