When cowardice is rational, honest and brave
If there was a prize for droll understatement in public relations, the man to beat right now would be New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat who, with 23 construction workers being rushed to hospital after a bridge collapsed at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium early yesterday, had this to say:
“The pictures on TV make it look much worse than it is.”
The indefatigable Mr Bhagat might have graduated with flying colours from the school of “It’s not a turd it’s a chocolate éclair” media management, but nobody else is buying it.
There is a natural tendency in journalism, which reflects a broader human tendency, to dwell on negatives and expect the worst. The bleak coverage in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics is a case in point. Everything from public transport planning and VIP gold seat ticketing to the proposed importation of American marching bands and the issuing of spots in the torch relay for members of the Olympic Family was the subject of relentlessly downbeat coverage, predicting the event would not only be a catastrophe but possibly an affront to our way of life.
The verdict? Best games ever.
The coverage in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi is in a different category. It’s likely that things will not just be every bit as bad as has been reported, but possibly also worse.
On almost every measure, there are signs that the planning surrounding the Games has been found seriously wanting. Security has already been breached, prompting laughably dissembling explanations from the authorities as to how the shooting in broad daylight of two Taiwanese holiday-makers, smack bang in the middle of Delhi’s busiest tourist precinct, wasn’t technically an act of terror.
And whatever Mr Bhagat had to say about it, the collapse of a 50m pedestrian bridge onto a crane and a couple of dozen labourers became a valid metaphor for the broader infrastructure problems surrounding the Games, as evidenced earlier by the Kiwis’ declaration that the athletes village is “unfit for human habitation”.
Against this backdrop, the decision by Australian world discus champion and gold medal hopeful Dani Samuels to pull out of the Games should appear neither controversial nor surprising. It is 100 per cent logical and sane.
You could mount a decent argument that it was actually a courageous decision by Dani Samuels to put her hand up and speak openly about how frightened she was about going to compete in a country where the most sober security experts are predicting an 80 per cent probability that a significant act of terrorist violence will occur in the next fortnight.
“For a couple of weeks I’ve struggled to sleep, felt ill, haven’t been able to train properly. The closer the deadline gets, the scarier the situation has become. So I’ve decided it’s not worth the risk ... I just can’t bring myself to go.”
Samuels’ comments were honest, and understandable. She isn’t alone. There are people in the media who had a chance to cover these Games but have declined. There are a few other athletes who have had muscle twinges or worries with form. If not for the spectre of violence, they may have decided to dose themselves up on painkillers or hope that the adrenalin could carry them through competition.
But Daniels was the first person to say that she has been listening to the warnings and following the coverage and decided on balance that it isn’t worth risking her life to play sport.
Hawkish, hairy-chested critics who trot out the line that the terrorists have won as a result of her actions should ask themselves this – why should the job fall to a 22-one-old woman who is pretty good at chucking a plastic saucer about to sign up for the frontline in the war against terror?
Terrorism has already changed our lives anyway. Every time we acquiesce to a random bomb residue test at the Sydney airport, or take off our shoes as we go through the security screen (you know, just in case we’ve lined them with plastic explosives), we’re conceding that life has changed since September 11, since Bali, London and Madrid.
The reaction in India to Australia’s concerns over security has, predictably enough, been to cry racism. On The Times of India website readers have been arguing that it is more dangerous for Indian students to live in Melbourne than it would be for Australian athletes to compete in Delhi. These comments reflect the deliberate distortions in the seamier sections of the Indian press, where in some cases, violence which has been committed here by Indian nationals against fellow Indian nationals has been held up as further evidence of the violent racism of white Australia. The comments also reflect the large post-colonial chip which India has on its shoulder about any criticism or concern which emanates from an historically Anglo-Saxon nation such as ours.
Maybe it’s time to demonstrate that, rather than encouraging our athletes to waltz into a situation where they are at real risk of violence, we’re not of a mind to endorse the event at all. It would send a pretty clear message that a half-hearted approach to terrorism is not acceptable, and help force a tougher line.
The Sydney-based security firm which predicted an 80 per cent likelihood of a terror attack has been criticised in the Indian press for not sending people to Delhi ahead of delivering its assessment. The report’s author, Roger Henning, said he relied on “contacts on the ground” in making his findings. But he added: “I wouldn’t go there if you gave me first-class tickets, a five-star hotel and front-row seats.”
Neither would I and I don’t think we should expect our athletes to, or criticise them if they choose not to.
Don’t miss: Get The Punch in your inbox every day
Get The Punch on Facebook
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…