Games get into gear

2010-10-03 11:38

 With nearly 6?000 athletes already in Delhi and hundreds more streaming in by the day, the ­Indian capital was putting the final finishing touches to preparations for the biggest-yet Commonwealth Games yesterday.

The 12-day sports gathering for 71 mostly former British colonies was in crisis a week ago, but organisers seemed to have put the worst of the rash of preparatory problems behind them on the eve of the opening ceremony.

The late scramble by the Indian government to salvage the $6-billion (about R41-billion) event might still not be enough to eradicate the public relations disaster of the past few weeks, but the 19th Commonwealth Games can boast the most competitors.

“We are pleased that Delhi 2010 will be the biggest ever Commonwealth Games,” secretary-general of the Games organising committee Lalit Bhanot said in a statement.

“More than 5?800 athletes and officials have already arrived in Delhi. With more arrivals scheduled in the coming days, Delhi 2010 is well on the way to becoming the biggest in ­history.”

The 2006 Melbourne Games had 5?766 athletes and officials and Delhi is expecting to host 6?700 before the Games close on October 14.

The late arrivals will land in a city in the grip of a huge security operation aimed at ensuring the safety of the athletes and spectators, 60?000 of whom will pack the refurbished ­Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium today.
Some 100?000 security personnel have been deployed around the city and MiG fighters and helicopter gunships will be on standby.

Police have had leave cancelled and the Delhi government has ordered shops and commercial establishments to remain closed today.

The Delhi Games, intended to showcase ­India’s growing financial clout with a display of soft power, had threatened to become a national embarrassment before the government intervened.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Congress Party-led coalition government have been accused of failing to give the Games the due attention expected of a large international event.

The organisers had seven years to prepare, but the shoddy construction and filthy accommodation forced some of the foreign contingents to either postpone their arrival or put up in city hotels.

The organisers renovated most of the existing stadiums and some of the venues, including the hockey and cycling stadiums, have been hailed as world-class.

A metro rail extension and a new airport terminal will be the other legacies of the Games.

But corruption charges, an attack by suspected militants that wounded two tourists, a dengue fever epidemic, a filthy Games Village and the collapse of a foot bridge have tarnished ­India’s image, questioning its ability to host events of such magnitude.

Several high-profile athletes have pulled out due to security and health concerns and further embarrassment awaited the organisers after a snake was found in a South African athlete’s room while an Indian boxer’s bed in the Games ­Village collapsed.

Outside the complex, beggars have been banished to the outskirts while homeless people who sleep on pavements have disappeared.

The health concerns were underlined when the Games’ chief medical officer fell sick on ­Friday with suspected typhoid: a food- and ­waterborne illness which is an ever-present danger in India.

The foreign spectators will number far fewer than the 100?000 organisers had hoped for, with worries about an outbreak of dengue fever – a potentially fatal mosquito-borne disease – shambolic preparations and the fear of militant attacks ­deterring many visitors. 

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