It's not just Delhi – huge events are often a burden

To make excuses for its problems would be condescending to say the least and, paradoxically, provide the most convincing indictment that Delhi is indeed not ready for an event of this size.

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The XIX Commonwealth Games kicks off in Delhi today with talk still centring on the collapsed bridge, security concerns, questionable facilities and athlete withdrawals rather than what will happen on the field.

The concerns surrounding the Games in India are just the latest to plague cities that have held major sporting events: the World Cup, the Olympics, the European Championship, the Winter Olympics, the World Athletics Championship, the Asian Games, and now the Commonwealth Games.

It is not just the athletes who are getting fatigued by the string of major international sporting events. With obvious exceptions, are all of these events still significant to the spectators? Athletics, arguably one of the pillars of major games, has lost a lot of its lustre in the last two decades, a good indicator of the general decline in popularity of some competitions. For sport fans of a certain age, the moment it all started to go wrong is etched in their memories. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, the Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson annihilated the 100-metre world record to claim gold, defeating the great Carl Lewis in the final.

The next day, it was revealed that Johnson had failed a drug test, and athletics, and the Olympics, were never the same again. Since then, the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and other competitions rarely pass without a doping scandal - whether in athletics, swimming, cycling or many other events - damaging the public's faith in anything approaching the idea of fair play or sportsmanship. The result is that many fans have simply lost interest.

And yet countries, which in many cases can barely afford it, continue to bid for tournaments that mean less and less. National pride may be the overriding factor for holding these showpieces, but it comes at a hefty price. Of course, the World Cup remains hugely popular, as does the Olympic Games, but has the time come to scale down many other events like the Commonwealth Games? The Games were meant to showcase that India had made giant gains in the sporting arena as it has in many other fields, but even the most cursory glance at cities that have held major events in the past decade will show that the aftermath tends to be very grim indeed.

It is still too early to gauge the long-term benefits of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but the short-term numbers do not make positive reading. Thousands of people were displaced from their homes and, as for boosting the local economy, Fifa put paid to that dream by allowing only approved partners and vendors to do business in the vicinity of its stadiums, driving many South African shops out of business. Analysts estimate that less than half of the almost $6 billion (Dh22 billion) that South Africa pumped into new stadiums, roads and airports will be recouped.

Beijing spent an astronomical $33 billion on the 2008 Olympic Games while displacing thousands - a success or nationalistic bluster? In 2004, the Athens Olympics cost $15 billion, and within months of the Games, the Olympic Village and other facilities that had been used for barely three weeks were abandoned and have by now become derelict sites. In fact, the Athens Games have been blamed as the catalyst for Greece's catastrophic financial collapse.

Even the successful Sydney Olympics in 2000, described by the former International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch as "the best Games ever", is now dismissed for its inadequate post-Games strategy. Still, it was something of an exception as the Sydney Olympic Park did eventually develop into a successful community and leisure district. The cost of the 2012 London Olympics has spiralled to a stratospheric $20 billion, money that even Briton can ill afford to spend in the current economic climate. With the Games less than two years away, many Londoners remain opposed to them.

And so to the Delhi Commonwealth Games. The feeling persists that India has overreached, spending something approaching $4 billion on what appear to be inadequate facilities. The blogosphere has been inundated with comments that criticism of the Games is an attempt to belittle India, but the apologists are missing the point. A collapsed bridge, security breaches and abysmal accommodation would deserve criticism regardless of the host city.

It is precisely because of India's massive strides and standing in the international community that it should be judged by the same standards as London, Beijing or Berlin. To make excuses for its problems would be condescending to say the least and, paradoxically, provide the most convincing indictment that Delhi is indeed not ready for an event of this size.