Yesterday was an interesting article in India edunews.net that Delhi University students had been asked to vacate their rooms for delegates for the Commonwealth Games Conference.
In a world which has been changing and modernising so rapidly, the face our college presents to the delegates who may live there will the the old squatting toilets, no running hot water, rooms which are unheated - in fact, the picture of a third rate residential accommodation.
Can we state that in these modern times we are looking after our students if they are being subjected to living standards of bygone ages?
Annikki took umbrage with the authorities who organised the Veterans Olympics in 1991 when our Indian delegation was humiliated by being given third rate accommodation is a school premises where they had to sleep on the floor, dormitory style, while participants from other countries got five star hotel treatment!
This is what she wrote in 1991:
Veterans Olympics in Finland
by Annikki Matthan
The World Veterans Athletic Championship which was held in Turku, South Finland a few years ago (1991), is cause enough to deny Finland the right to host any international sporting event in which third world participants may wish to take part. It would be best if intending participants from these countries are informed of the heartless treatment that is likely to be meted out to them if they choose to come to this country for international sporting events.
It would also be wise if the Olympic Athletics Committees of developing countries discussed the matter with the veteran athletes that took part in these games and made an official complaint to the International Olympic Athletics Committee. The International Committee should be requested to fully investigate their findings. The IOC, based on their independent conclusions, should take steps to deny any country that behaves inhumanely towards athletes, like Finland did, the right to host any international sporting event.
Finland - the most expensive country in the world
It is without doubt that Finland is one of the most expensive countries in Europe and probably the world. The proof is the hotel bill I paid (special summer reduced rate of Rs. 4000 for one night!) when I stayed at a three star hotel during my visit to Turku where I had gone to see the Championships.
In this expensive hotel, as in all the five, four and three star hotels in Turku, were the participants from the richer countries and officials from all the participating countries enjoying hearty five and six course nutritious buffet breakfasts of their choice (fruit juice, tea, coffee or milk, corn flakes, yoghurt, a wide variety of vegetarian salads, preserved fish and meat, bread, toast, or rolls with butter and jam, and finally a fresh fruit as a large juicy orange). They had just descended to the plush breakfast room from their beautiful and tastefully decorated hotel rooms (equipped with telephone, radio, television sets, private shower and bath) after their early morning gratis sauna and swim in the hotel pool. In fact, anything that their money could buy was available to these contestants from the richer countries.
What about the contestants from India and the financially poorer world countries taking part, whose athletes did not have pockets lined with gold. Where were they?
There was a rude shock when I visited the large contingent of men and women from different parts of India.
They had been crowded into a couple of school rooms with mattresses spread out on the floor, twenty or more to a room. There were not even the basic facilities like cupboards to keep their clothes and sporting equipment. They had to queue to use the common toilets facilities. There were not even proper food facilities in line with their limited financial means (Rs. 200 for a most unappetising meal). They had to pay extravagant amounts to get anything and even had to pay an exorbitant bus fare for the seven kilometre trip between the two stadiums where the meet was being held. They had paid extremely high fees to take part in the events and were even made to pay high charges for use of these rudimentary facilities. These poor cousins were herded and treated like animals and fleeced like goats.
The caretaker of the school, taking pity on these poorly looked after athletes, gave his personal cooker to the Indian participants to prepare their own food. The participants, instead of training and resting, had to scour the ultra-expensive Finnish supermarkets for cheap products like milk (Rs. 35 per litre), rice (Rs. 85 per kilo) and vegetables (Rs. 160 per kilo of tomatoes) to meet their basic dietary requirements. Meat eaters would have had to pay anywhere from Rs. 250 to Rs. 800 for a kilo - so that was best avoided. Fruits and other basic ingredients of a healthy diet were totally financially inaccessible to these athletes, many of whom have owed their long life to their strict dietary habits.
Less enterprising participants from the neighbouring socialist countries, who shared the same school premises with the Indians, were considerably worse off than the Indians. They took to selling their watches and cameras to the slightly better off participants so as to afford to live.
Was the Olympics between equals
Is any contest between the richer and poorer nations held under these conditions equal in any respect? What was the meaning of the Olympic Motto under which this sporting event was supposed to be Hosted in Finland?
Moaned one Indian participant who had taken part in the Asian Veterans Championships at Kuala Lumpur earlier that year - "The Malaysians looked after our every need and made us feel welcome. If the Finns came to take part in any event in India they would be properly hosted - not treated like this - worse than animals!!"
Indians show the way
It was indeed a great achievement that two over-nineties from India, despite these adverse conditions they were subjected too, dominated their age-group events and ran their way to glory capturing all the medals that they could lay their hands on.
Athletic ninety year Narayanamurthy from Bull Temple Road, Basavangudi, Bangalore, born on 12th December 1900, was indeed oblivious to the problems around him.
His colleagues shared their humble food and drink with the sprightly gentleman. Full of beans (metaphorically speaking only) he was!! He captured the hearts of the sparse audience as his sprinted away a full 50 metres ahead of his rival in the 200 metres, as indeed in all the events he took part in. He more than justified the trust placed in him by the Karnataka Chief Minister who had, in his personal capacity, given Narayanamurthy a helping hand to take part.
So also was the case with fit-as-a-fiddle ninety-nine year old Joginder Singh from Patiala in Punjab. Narayanamurthy and Joginder Singh certainly did India proud at this occasion.
What was even more surprising was that when we visited the Indian contingent, never having met a single one of them before, friendship and hospitality, even under the conditions that they had been forced into, oozed out of them. They made us at home on the three wooden stools that were available for them to be shared between the couple of hundred athletes that were staying in the school. Even with their meagre resources, some of the lady athletes from Kerala produced piping hot cups of coffee for us strangers who had landed in their midst.
This was a mark of good culture, upbringing and sportsmanship - not what my country, Finland, had forced on these eager contestants who had spent fortunes from their own pockets to come to this country to participate in this event.
Who was to blame for this shambles? Was it the Sports and Cultural Ministries of Finland who had obviously ignored the event. Was it the City of Turku who had not taken steps to ensure that the event was organised as defined by rules of fair competition in sporting events.
Or, was it the officials of these Third World Participating Committees who did not raise a single voice in protest at the inhumane conditions that their participants were forced to live with or the gross inequality of the contest? Was it that the officials from these countries were wined and dined by the Finnish organisers so that they would not raise any noise about the arrangements, or rather the lack of them?
Is it any surprise that the medals in the more contested age groups were shared among the richer countries which could pay their way to victory? Is this the spirit of the fair sporting competition or the Olympic Movement!!
No first aid for injured
The numerous organisers and officials visible everywhere at the athletics stadium sported expensive bright new green uniforms, were picked and dropped in expensive cars and vans, and ate breakfast, lunch and dinner, at the expense of the athletes, in posh restaurants and hotels, obviously taking care to host the Committee Members from the participating countries but ignoring the starving third world athletes.
However, when a 85 year old participant stumbled and fell two yards away from the finishing post, not a single games official was on hand to rush to his aid.
It was the oldest participant of the competition, 99 year old Indian, Joginder Singh, who was talking to us just at the moment, who rushed onto the track to lift up the poor injured participant. No first aid was even offered by the officials to the injured man who, crestfallen and bleeding at the nose, angrily hobbled away into the centre of the stadium.
What about Press, Radio and Television coverage of the event? This meet was virtually ignored by the Finnish Press, except for sensational journalism. The results of the penultimate day were not even reported in the leading Finnish papers. On the other hand, the Finns started off their own National Athletics Championships in Helsinki on the concluding day of this international event with massive press, radio and television coverage and totally ignored the large contingent of foreign athletes, numbering close to 5000, who had assembled in their country for the international event. A strange sign of hospitality indeed!!
Is this the correct cultural way to host and promote an event which is designed to enthuse middle-aged and elderly people around the world to live better lives by keeping up their activity level?
Is any contest between the richer and poorer nations held under these condition equal in any respect? What was the meaning of the Olympic Motto under which this sporting event was supposed to be Hosted in Finland?
Atlanta Olympics - July 1996
The Olympics in Atlanta, USA, will certainly be organised so that all contestants are treated equally and participants from the poorer nations are accorded the same hospitality rather than as shown by these indifferent and inhumane Finnish organisers, aided by officials from the poorer nations who only looked after their own interests rather than the interests of the people they represented.
All these amateur participants at future Veterans Olympics should be given the same level of hospitality by hosting countries. They are a finer example to the people of today than the commercialised superstars of the modern day Olympics who can well afford to pay for their comforts.
Now it is my turn to point out that India needs to wake up when hosting an international event like the Commonwealth Games and ensure that all the delegates get equal treatment!
I hope our College Authorities as well as the Indian Sports Authorities will take note of this!