Aussies can skip Delhi

The Age newspaper
Stay-home option for Delhi Games
Dan Silkstone
November 12, 2009


AUSTRALIA’S stars of track and field will be told they do not have to attend the Commonwealth Games in Delhi next year if they are concerned for their safety because of the threat of terrorism.

Athletics Australia is placing extra importance on next year’s Games, recognising the increased funding that the Australian Commonwealth Games Federation has supplied to the sport this year at a time when government funding is either stagnating or reduced.

But lingering concerns about athlete safety and the threat of terrorism mean that athletes will be given the option of staying at home.

‘‘If they don’t want to go, then we are going to leave it up to them,’’ Athletics Australia chief executive Danny Corcoran told The Age. ‘‘It’s a very personal decision.’’

Athletics forms a large part of the Australian Games squad and a team of up to 85 athletes is being planned - the largest sent to a Commonwealth Games held on foreign soil.

Security fears have lingered after incidents including the 2008 Mumbai hotel shootings and the March attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Pakistan.

Under a new plan prepared by high-performance director Eric Hollingsworth, Australian athletes will be told to prioritise the Games as the most important meet of 2010. Apart from a small group of elite performers, such as world championship medallists Steve Hooker and Mitchell Watt and Olympic silver medallist Sally McLellan, Australia’s runners and throwers will be prevented from travelling to Europe for the hectic competition season until mid-August, a move designed to prevent burnout by the time the Games arrive in October.

Australian Commonwealth Games Association chief executive Perry Crosswhite said athletes from other sports would also be free to make their own decision to attend the Games or stay away based on the security situation.

‘‘We don’t force them to go and they will be asked to sign a contract acknowledging that there are risks and that they accept those risks,’’ he said.

Australia’s tennis players forfeited a Davis Cup tie in April after refusing to travel to India due to concerns about security. With tennis set to make its Commonwealth Games debut next year, top players will be faced with a similar decision.

Plans are well under way to protect the Australian team. Commonwealth Games Association officials met the Australian Federal Police yesterday and The Age can reveal an unprecedented level of security will accompany Team Australia.

‘‘We will have a team of AFP officers travelling with us … and we hope to have them in the village with us,’’ Crosswhite said.

Crosswhite - who will travel to Delhi for the latest in a series of evaluations ahead of the Games - said he thought the security situation had improved in recent weeks.

‘‘But we need to make sure they understand that there are risks,’’ he said.