By: Chitra Ahanthem
As the countdown to the Common Wealth Games gets ticking, controversies continue to dog it at Delhi and good old Manipur. The state saw the Queens’ Baton Relay, which came with its fair share of public dressing ups and ripples of unhappiness in private. Going by the way certain parts of Imphal was decked in hastily erected “welcome” arches, we could have passed off as a prosperous state doing very well, thank you! But the grin sported by the Games mascot Sheroo meant just another billboard picture in a state that is still trying to come to grips with un-necessitated price rise. At Delhi where the Games is to be held, the state of unpreparedness is hogging media headlines with the latest scam being on inflated costs for medical supplies for the sport extravaganza that is not even needed. There are also questions over why crowded places in Delhi had to be dressed up for the Games and why money was not spent on places that could have been developed. Much seems to have happened over the euphoria when India won hosting honour and the developments thereafter.
Coming back to the relay, the Queen’s Baton Relay is taken around the world prior to the actual Commonwealth Games and is so called since it carries a message from the Head of the Commonwealth, currently Queen Elizabeth. The Relay starts from Buckingham Palace in London where the baton is entrusted by the Queen to the first relay runner. At the Opening ceremony of the Games, the final relay runner hands back the baton to the Queen or her representative, who reads the message aloud to officially open the Games.
A Google search on the baton gave interesting information: designed by a graduate from the National Institute of Design, it is a triangular section of aluminium twisted into a helix (a shape formed by a smooth curve) and then coated with coloured soils collected from all regions of India. It also had sophisticated technology going with it: an ability to capture images and sounds, a Global Positioning system (GPS) so it’s location can be tracked; embedded light emitting diodes (LEDs) that changes the colours of a country’s flag whilst in that country and a text messaging capability so people can send messages to the Baton bearers throughout the relay. The relay within the host country started once the baton was handed by Pakistan at the Wagah border and is now on its run in 28 states and seven Union territories.
But while the run up to the Games gets its fair share of negativity with its emphasis of infrastructure support, not much is known about how much resources are being invested into the welfare of the sportspersons who would be vying for honours and medals. In fact, the sporting world in the country seems to be on a low ebb apart from the money churning cricket enterprise with charges of sexual misconduct rearing up in women’s hockey and weightlifting. Manipur’s own MC Kom who has been selected as one of the brand ambassadors for the Games has already gone on record saying that women sporting disciplines are much prone to harassment and politicking. The baton rally in its Manipur leg had its fair share of rumblings too. The Manipur Olympic Association was conspicuous by their absence and the first relay runner nearly got upstaged by someone, who wasn’t supposed to hog centre space: it did seem like a case of a desperate attempt at getting “5 seconds worth of fame”. The relay also managed to skirt through current eye sores of Imphal: the Waheng Leikai road stretch, the Nagamapal area- after all, why look at the muck and the mud? Organizers of sporting events and activities around it would also do well to devote some creativity into sport theme songs and the like. The rendition of “We shall overcome” at the Baton relay activities at Kangla did not go well with people by any stretch of imagination. The song ties in with its calls for political and civil rights but sports??
Having said about the rumblings on the Baton rally, it must be said too that much like the welcome cool showers after a dry hot spell, it caught the imagination of the young and the old. People dressed up and waited by the roads, many went to the Kangla Fort to have a look at the goings on there but the best take was that of a confused person who asked me prior to the relay in Manipur: “I saw a sword like thing on TV that people ran with, something called Binaton rally.” It took some time to sink it. She meant the Baton Rally! And that sums up the mood in Manipur really: we get caught by the here and now.