Editorial: Games results demand some soul-searching

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Performers launch the Closing Ceremony for the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Photo / Getty Images
Performers launch the Closing Ceremony for the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Photo / Getty Images

In the end, New Zealand's medal haul at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games was only a small improvement on the number won at Melbourne four years ago, with the major difference being a greater preponderance of silvers.

Yet while this has occasioned justifiable disappointment, there is not the sense of abject failure that followed the 2006 event. Mercifully, we have been spared anguished soul-searching over irrelevancies such as whether the education system is teaching youngsters to accept being second-best. Several factors have probably contributed to this more restrained response.

One is that expectations were not raised unrealistically high. Sport and Recreation New Zealand had promised a best-ever collection of medals in Melbourne.

It resisted making any such forecast this time. Equally, the messy lead-up to the New Delhi Games was succeeded by a generally lacklustre atmosphere during competition.

The best Games are those enthusiastically supported by the local residents.

Only belatedly did the Indian people show real interest, even though their sportsmen and women were winning medals in events in which they once made up the numbers. That apathy was largely duplicated in this country until the last few days of competition, despite the wall-to-wall television coverage of a bloated programme.

But that is not to say the 19th edition of the Games suggested an event on its last legs. There were, again, moments that will live long in the memory. The Silver Ferns beat Australia for gold in, arguably, the greatest netball game of all time.

Almost as dramatic was the rugby sevens team's victory over the same rival to continue a clean sweep of Games gold medals. The Black Sticks' heartbreaking loss to Australia in a penalty shoot-out also made compelling viewing. Squash, a sport struggling for attention these days, also enjoyed time in the spotlight.

With an eye towards the 2012 London Olympics, the athletics and swimming squads performed much as anticipated. But there was a reality check for cycling, which had been expected to be a mainstay of the New Zealand performance.

A handful of golds had been predicted in track cycling, especially when it became known some of England's top performers would be absent.

Yet while the medal haul was more than respectable, gold was denied everyone except Alison Shanks in an event (the 3000m individual pursuit) that will not feature in London. The run of seconds behind Australia suggested that the BikeNZ high-performance programme remains a work in progress.

The major disappointment was undoubtedly the bowls team. For the second Games in succession, it failed to come close to the high standards expected from the sport. Excuses about the artificial greens contained little substance.

The grim truth seems to be that New Zealand's current crop of bowlers too often struggle to match their competitors in top international events. A brutally frank debrief is required to discover why.

Sport at this level demands accountability. The millions of taxpayer dollars on offer cannot be thrown about willy-nilly. Sports and individuals must meet performance targets. If they cannot, they must expect their funding to be cut.

Those who disappointed in India will be looking nervously over their shoulders. Others will take a renewed confidence to London, where the added presence of rowing and yachting will, hopefully, wipe away many of the post-New Delhi frowns.

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