It is the most enduring world record in the history of sport. It will never be broken and will be taken to the grave by the select few athletes who were fortunate to have achieved the momentous feat.
The world record was set on a sultry evening at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi, India, just moments after the conclusion of the Commonwealth Games in 2010.
Yes, the world record was set after the completion of the officially sanctioned events and was thus shrouded in secrecy…until now.
Beyond the gaze of the crowd and the glare of the TV cameras, and far removed from the world’s media, a special world record performance took place which will remain in the hearts and minds of the small band of heroes who were privileged to have taken part.
The hand-picked athletes snuck out onto the Athletics track before its closure. They heard hastily prepared instructions before assembling into their teams at the top of the 100m track.
No starting blocks. No starters gun. No spikes to be seen and no official race numbers. The covert nature of the record attempt necessitated such measures.
They were off, 4 finely-tuned athletes leapt from the starting line and strained every sinew to propel themselves at break neck speed down the track. After 25 metres they passed a biro to their team mate and yelled furiously into their ear to Run, Run, Run…and this they did.
One team established a small lead and left the third and fourth place teams in their wake, but a flying second leg charge from team two drew them level by the time the biros were passed into the hands of the third runners at the 50 metre mark.
The team in third then sailed into second with a silky smooth baton change and the third leg runner of the team which had changed in first place appeared to stumble. Was it a fall a hamstring, a calf strain? It appeared to be a simple cramp, and their hopes were dashed.
The remaining three teams continued to battle for supremacy in what was now a tightly-contested race worthy of a world record and eternal glory. A neck and neck tussle had ensued before the final biro change just 25 metres from the finish line.
The small band of onlookers were now cheering themselves hoarse and their cries merged with the shouts from the teammates of the final leg runners. They inched closer and closer to the finish line. Despite the closeness of the race and the monumental efforts of every competitor, only one team could win and claim this auspicious and unbeatable world record.
Two teams now edged stride by stride to the line and barely a whisker separated the two champion athletes striving to etch their names into history forever more.
5 metres, 4, 3, 2, 1 and a final desparate lunge delivered one team to victory just a breath ahead of another team in second and a different team in third.
The victors rejoiced and celebrated in unison, sending their cheers into the night sky and up to the heavens. They had won. They had conquered. They were giants of the sport.
They were heroes.
There’s nothing worse than fourth place at a major championship, and so it was on this sultry night in Delhi.
The 4 x 25 metre relay had been run and won.
What is the world record?
Actually, I have no idea. No one had a stopwatch on the race and even if they had I doubt they could have recorded an accurate finishing time, let alone have it ratified by the IAAF. The event was such a crazy blur of activity that capturing a reliable finishing time was impossible.
The names of the record holders have been lost to history as well, such was the manic energy and sheer delerium which engulfed the participants.
The medal ceremony did take place, as did drug testing. Traces of caffeine were certainly found in the majority of competitors, and traces of alcohol would certainly have been found in the competitors if the testing had taken place a few hours later.
While the finishing time and the names of the athletes passed into the night sky, it is fair in this instance to say that sport was the winner.
First of all, Australians call it ‘Footy’. But footy can mean Australian Rules Football, Football/Soccer, Rugby League or Rugby Union.
Footy = Aussie Rules
Australian Rules Football – Aussie Rules – AFL
Australian Rules Football holds the most legitimate claim the to the title of Australian football. ‘Aussie Rules’ is unique to Australia.
Australian Rules Football is apparently a combination of Marngrook and Gaelic Football. Marngrook is a sport played by Indigenous Australians involving a ball, two teams and goal posts, and Gaelic football was brought to Australia by Irish migrants in the early days of the colony. The two were combined and adapted to create Australian Rules Football.
AFL is Australian Football League which is the national first-grade competition with teams in most states and territories, and the entire sport is often called ‘AFL’. The heartland of the game is Victoria, especially Melbourne, and most of the AFL teams still represent suburbs in Melbourne.
AFL is also the most popular spectator sport in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania and is the number 1 sport in the Northern Territory, especially among Indigenous Australians. No matter how remote the Indigenous community, they know all about the AFL.
Aussie Rules does have devoted fans in New South Wales and Queensland, but it is definitely not the most popular code in these states.
Footy = Soccer
Soccer – Football
Aussie Rules may be Australia’s national sport, but the most popular participation sport in the country is soccer.
Australians have long called the sport Soccer, but the rest of the world calls it football, so Aussies recently started calling it Football until we realised that footy refers to three other codes in the land Down Under. So, what name do they use? It depends who you ask.
Soccer is played in every state and territory from junior to senior level, and is producing strong national teams. AFC Asian Cup victories went to the men’s Socceroos in 2015, and the women’s Matildas in 2010. Soccer will also enjoy a rise in popularity after Australia and New Zealand won the rights to co-host the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023.
The success of the national teams and the sport itself is due largely to the country’s migrant population. The British colonisers brought the sport to the country, but migrants built it. Club teams from the Italian, Greek and other European communities drove the early national league and The World Game is the most truly multi-cultural code in the country. The A-League and the W-League are the current national competitions for men and women and feature teams from throughout Australia.
Rugby is Australia’s national sport.
Many foreigners think rugby is Australian football, but this is not true. AFL and Soccer are more popular, and ‘rugby’ actually refers to two separate codes.
Footy = Rugby Union
Rugby Union – Rugby – Union
Rugby Union is footy for students at expensive private schools in New South Wales and Queensland. The Game They Play in Heaven was the domain of the wealthy from school, to club to representative level, and this kept it contained to a very select demographic.
Rugby Sevens has broadened its appeal and another factor has attracted a different demographic to the sport – Pacific Islanders. Every club, school or representative team now actively recruits players of Pacific Islander origin. They are built to play rugby. They are big, strong, fast, agile, skilful and very hard to tackle.
Club teams fill their rosters with Pasifika players and private schools offer scholarships to talented young Pasifika boys. Representative teams at Super Rugby and national level rely very heavily on players from Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand and almost half of the players in the men’s national team, the Wallabies, have pacific island heritage. Rugby Union also competes for Pasifika talent with Rugby League, as the players are just as dominant in this sport.
The arrival of many South African migrants in Western Australia has increased the appeal of the code in this state, especially in Perth.
A threat to the dominance of Rugby Union in Australian private schools is Aussie Rules. The sport pursues a very pro-active and effective junior development program and is now being played at private schools, and Aussie Rules posts have replaced rugby posts on many school ovals.
Another threat to the future of the sport is the risk of injury. Many Australian parents are concerned for the safety of their children after seeing the injuries suffered at junior and senior level among players in rugby (and league). Both of these sports have gone to great lengths to protect players, especially from head injuries, but injuries, some of which are very serious, are hard to avoid in such brutally physical sports.
The concern over serious injury has led many parents to sign their children up for soccer.
Footy = Rugby League
If you say footy in NSW and Queensland, most people will think of Rugby League. League is the most popular sport in these states. It was played only in these two states until recently. Ironically, though, the most dominant team in the National Rugby League competition in recent years, and the 2020 premiers, is the Storm – from Melbourne.
League is the working man’s game and this distinguishes it from Union, and explains its broad appeal.
So, what is Australian football? That’s a complex question. Geography and social class determine how most people answer, and even the time of year. League, Union and Aussie rules are all winter sports, but the A-League (Soccer) is played during summer. The ambiguity causes debate among some Australians, while most just enjoy the chance to watch so many sports at a high level in one country.
Djamolidine Abdoujaparov – It just rolls off the tongue so well. The road cyclist from Uzbekistan was also known as the Tashkent Terror due to his blistering sprint finishes and wild style. He won the green points jersey in the 1991 Tour de France, and a mountain stage in 1996. How many athletes have a British Rock band named after them?
Nathan Leeper – Nathan is naturally a high jumper. The leaper from the USA finished inside the top 10 at multiple major international events, including a fourth place at the World Indoor Championships in 2001.
Anthony Whiteman – The British runner competed in middle distance events. Every time he lined up in international competitions against a field of mostly African runners, his name was abbreviated to A. Whiteman. Anthony won gold at the 1997 Universiade and bronze at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in the 1500 metres.
Will Power – The name says it all. Australian race car driver who enjoyed success in the IndyCar series.
Zinzan Brooke – I just like the way it sounds. A lot of Kiwis like the way the former All Black played the game of Rugby Union.
Usain Bolt – A marketing dream. Lightning Bolt, world’s fastest human. A signature pose and a charismatic personality. The Jamaican is also a multiple world record holder and international medallist.
Ben Swift – Ben Swift is fast. Just as well. The cyclist won the scratch race at the 2012 Track Cycling World Championships and the British national championships on the road in 2019.
Conor Swift – Ben’s cousin Conor is also a professional cyclist, and is also rather rapid. He won the British road championships in 2018.
Endurance Ojokolo – An athlete with a contradictory name. Endurance competed for Nigeria in the shortest race on the track, the 100m. She was multiple African champion and Olympic finalist.
Cody Rodeo Tyler – Yes, it’s on his birth certificate. Yes, he rides Rodeo. The American bull rider is one of the best in the world and competes on the world Pro Bull Riding circuit. I guess his parents didn’t give him much choice.
Beast Mtawarira (Tendai) – Beast may not appear on Mtawarira’s birth certificate, but the nickname is so appropriate it is how he is known. Tendai was born in Zimbabwe but he is the most capped prop for South Africa’s Springboks, with whom he won the 2019 World Cup.
George Best – The best ever? Some people think so. The northern Irishman won many games and accolades for Manchester United and is regarded as one of the most talented footballers in history.
Bradman Best – What a name to live up to. The young Australian Rugby League player shares a first name with Australia’s most beloved sportpserson, Don Bradman, and his surname indicates he is better than anyone – No pressure
Bastian Schweinsteiger – a guy who sleeps in the pig sty. However, after winning the 2014 FIFA World Cup with Germany and the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League with Bayern Munich, as well as many other titles, I don’t think Bastian sleeps in a pig sty.
Winner Anacona -The Columbian road cyclist enters every race with a positive mindset, and has enjoyed success at international level, including a stage win at the 2014 Vuelta a Espana. ironically, his name is a mistake. It was meant to be Winnen, after cyclist Peter Winnen.
Fuifui MoiMoi – His name rolls off the tongue. He rolled over opposition players. Tongan born ‘Fui’ had a big body, big hair and a big personality which earned him cult status at the Parramatta Eels club in Australia. He also played for New Zealand and Tonga. His brother-in-law is NFL player Star Lotulelei, who also had a name to live up to.
Junior Paulo – Another bullocking prop from the Parramatta Eels, Paulo has represented his homeland of Samoa at international level and was selected in the NSW State of Origin team in 2020. Paulo’s name is significant because if he is Junior, how big is Senior Paulo?
The Kiwi Contingent – New Zealand rugby league players whose names challenge even the sharpest commentators:
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and
The Athlete Formerly Known As: Saif Saaeed Shaheen was formerly known as Stephen Cherono until he swapped allegiance from Kenya to Qatar and won multiple interntaional medals in the 3000m Steeplechase, for which he still holds the world record.
Loris Vergier – The world’s fastest loris. The French downhill mountain biker hurls himself down mountains at ridiculous speeds and won a world junior title in 2014, as well as the most recent UCI World Cup Downhill race.
Sam Hill – The Australian rides a mountain bike very quickly up and down…hills.
Annie Last – A remarkable name for the wrong reasons. Annie rarely finishes last. The experienced British mountain biker and Cyclo-Cross rider belongs to the elite level of women’s cycling and won gold in the 2018 Commonwealth Games MTB Cross County.
Carl Ernest and Carlos Ernesto Morgan – Identical twins from the Cayman Islands, who competed in the sprints and jumps and attended the same college in the US, as well as sharing the track at events such as the Commonwealth Games.
Alvin and Calvin Harrison – Another set of identical twins, who became the first twins to win Olympic gold medals together in Athletics when they joined forces in the 4 x 400m relay at the Sydney 2000 games. Alvin won silver in the 400m in Atlanta 1996.
English Gardner – She is American, not English, and she rose to fame as a 100m sprinter, not a gardener. She won multiple national titles, made finals at multiple world championships and Olympic Games, and won Olympic relay gold. Maybe she does enjoy potting around in the backyard?
Will major sporting events soon be held only in non-democratic countries?
International sporting events such as the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup may take place only in countries without genuine democracy as governments in democratic countries struggle to justify to their populations the exorbitant cost of hosting these events. Authorities in non-democratic countries, on the other hand, do not need to justify anything to their subjects.
The citizens of democratic nations are increasingly aware of the enormous financial costs and disruption required to host international competitions. The same people are also aware of the lack of funding directed towards more immediate needs in their countries such as schools, universities, hospitals and other infrastructure.
Do major sporting events make a profit?
The question is not so much whether major sporting events make a profit, or if they benefit countries in other ways. The question is whether governments can persuade their populations that the events make a profit or benefit the nation.
Can governments continue to justify the construction of enormous sporting stadia when government schools are underfunded?
Can governments continue to justify accommodating the world’s athletes when hospitals are underfunded?
Can governments justify spending $118 million on opening or closing ceremonies when public transport is insufficient or non-existant?
Brazil highlighted this contradiction recently. The country hosted both the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016 despite a struggling economy, a broken public health system, grossly underfunded public schools and crumbling infrastructure. Many educated Brazilians are still waiting for the promised economic and social benefits of these two events. Many South Africans have undoubtedly been asking the same questions since 2010.
Have you ever volunteered at a major sporting event?
Would you volunteer at a major sporting event?
As everyday people learn more about the corruption and lavish lifestyles of the officials at major sporting organisations, surely they will be less inclined to jump into a garish uniform and stand for hours outside a train station directing fans to venues – for no pay.
Many volunteers have thankless jobs. They never see a moment of sport. The never see their sporting heroes in person. In return, they get to keep their uniform and receive a generic thankyou letter from a random politician. Major sporting events cannot go ahead without an army of volunteers. Could FIFA or the IOC afford to pay every volunteer at one of their international events?
Rulers of non-democratic nations, meanwhile, are better able to persuade citizens to volunteer.
Patriotism drives many volunteers to offer their vital services, but will it be enough in the future?
Patriotism drove young people to volunteer for the army in World War I for example, but many of today’s youth do not share this patriotic fervour. Can the same shift in attitude be applied to the sporting sphere, and would young people choose to volunteer for a sporting event?
Volunteers at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games spoke of their national pride, and continue to reference this as a motivation and reward for volunteering at the games. I myself experienced some of this patriotism when I volunteered. That said, I volunteered in the media, with the best seats in the house, at the Athletics, and spent the games interviewing athletes. I also sat on the finish line, a few rows back, when Cathy Freeman won gold. Most volunteers were not so lucky.
Patriotism also persuaded many Brazilians to eventually support, or at least stop criticising, the hosting of the 2014 World Cup. The government was canny enough to know that the country’s obsession with the world game would eventually silence many of its critics. This enthusiasm surely waned when they lost 7 – 1 to Germany on home soil.
The public is also much more likely to congratulate or tolerate a government’s decision to host a major event in that country wins. Winning elite sporting competitions also costs a lot of money.
Patriotism will still persuade many citizens to support international competitions in the future. Australians were elated to hear that their country will share the FIFA Women’s World Cup with New Zealand in 2023, but by that time will Australia still be a democracy?
A quick internet search reveals that many major events scheduled for the next five years will be held in countries such as Japan, Switzerland, France and Italy, which are universally accepted as democratic. Other events will be held in the USA, but as long as Trump is in office can the USA claim to be democratic?
It’s worth noting that all of these counties were awarded the competitions before the COVID-19 pandemic. When the total financial and social cost of the virus is calculated, will citizens support any future bids for major sporting events?
Non-democratic countries don’t need to justify anything to their subjects. China, Russia and the Gulf States are now hosting many of the world’s major sporting events and their governments operate unencumbered by public sentiment.
China has hosted many major sporting events and will do so in the near future. They entered this space by hosting the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and have hosted various forms of Asian Games. The Winter Olympics are set to be held in Beijing in 2022 and the country has been the venue for prestigious events in Basketball, Swimming and Athletics in recent years.
China is not a democratic nation.
Russia is an interesting conundrum. Russian athletes were prohibited from competing under the national flag at many recent major events due to widespread state-supported doping, but the country still hosted events such as the Winter Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup and the 2015 World Aquatics Championships in Kazan.
Russia is not a democratic nation.
The Gulf states
The Gulf states are attracting sports administrators to their nations. Their geographical location and air transport hubs make them enticing locations for staging international events, and their oil wealth allows them to cover the costs. The oil money also affords their people a very high standard of living and a subsequent tolerance of government policies.
Qatar is determined to become a sporting nation. They have invested heavily in sporting academies and sporting infrastructure. They host major events and hire foreign experts to train their homegrown talent. They are set to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and have promised to keep players, officials, fans and the media comfortable despite the stifling desert heat. The air conditioned World Cup is bound to cost an absolute fortune, but the oil rich states should have little trouble convincing their subjects to bear this burden.
Having worked at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, which was the first major event of any kind held in that country, I can attest to the enthusiasm, pride and excitement Qataris will feel towards football’s greatest tournament in two year’s time.
The United Arab Emirates has attempted to position itself as a favourable tourism destination through hosting international competitions in sports such as Rugby Sevens, Tennis, Golf, Sailing, Equestrian and Road Running.
The flow-on effect
Financial costs and benefits are not the only factors for governments to consider when deciding to host a major event. Flow-on effects must also be taken into account.
One flow-on effect is the increase in sports participation after a major event such as the Olympic Games. This is not true. Many first-world countries which have recently hosted major events are seeing an increase in childhood obesity every year.
Major events lead to an increase in sports participation immediately after the games, or an increase in participation in particular sports. If a national hockey team or basketball team wins gold, those two sports will most likely attract more members. But many of these sports were probably mass participation sports in that country anyway. Norway wins Cross -Country skiing gold because of the popularity of that sport. The same can be said of Speed Skating in The Netherlands, Rugby Sevens in Fiji and Table Tennis in China.
Sporting infrastructure is touted as a positive legacy for a host city or country. Many venues are reused as specialist or multipurpose sporting facilities. However, A quick google search reveals a multitude of facilities in many countries left to crumble after world’s best athletes have departed. Some of these abandoned facilities were used as recently as the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
Evidence of this wastage, and the tactics used by governments to justify the initial construction, will surely make citizens of democratic nations more cynical and less inclined to support bids for major events in the future.
Is it cheaper to host E-Sports events?
Competitions still often take place inside sports stadiums but there are fewer competitors at fewer venues who seem to require less equipment. Competitions consist of a few ‘gamers’, their elaborate computer game equipment, copious energy drinks and some broadcast equipment to display the action on a big screen and to livestream to audiences around the world. The fact that E-Sports competitions take place electronically means that they can be enjoyed online. Does this make them easier and cheaper to host?
E-Sports must be an enticing options for governments in the future because they are enormously popular. The most watched Youtube videos are those featuring computer games and gamers.
Are we looking at this the wrong way?
Instead of asking whether only authoritarian regimes will host major events in the future, can we cite the hosting of an international sporting competition as evidence that a country is not democratic?
Persuading the powerful
Finally, how many countries will be able to afford to ‘persuade’ the sports officials who decide which country hosts the upcoming sporting extravaganza?
Many footballers, fans and coaches throughout the world would love to know that. The Argentinian superstar is still scoring goals and winning games for Barcelona and Argentina and he remains one of the best footballers on the planet.
Thus, how do you curtail his whippet-like speed?
How do you halt those magical feet?
How do you stall the champion and detain him, hold him stationary for more than a split second?
You might try the following method.
Herd him into a narrow space.
In this case, the broadcast area of the mixed zone at the Beijing Olympics, where Messi had helped Argentina to beat Nigeria and take the gold medal.
Thrust a microphone at him.
Ask, politely, in Spanish, if he has time to answer a few questions.
Steps two to four will prove more successful if said microphone is held by Mexican television presenter, and former Miss Universe contestant, Marisol Gonzalez.