Oct 04, 2010 Sports
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India reclaimed some of its lost pride with a vibrant opening ceremony to the 19th Commonwealth Games yesterday after weeks of negative publicity about problems with the preparations.
Anger over the chaotic build-up spilled over into the ceremony, however, when chief organiser Suresh Kalmadi, widely held responsible for the mess, was booed as he rose to address some 60,000 spectators at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Britain’s Prince Charles opened the Games after delivering a message from his mother Queen Elizabeth, the head of the Commonwealth, but India’s President Pratibha Patel was also given a prominent role in a diplomatic compromise.
A stylish, three-hour festival of song and dance and no little technical wizardry was a suitable antidote for Indians after the public relations disasters of the last few weeks.
The $6-billion Games had been intended to showcase India’s growing financial might but threatened to become a national farce and only a late scramble by the embarrassed government salvaged the event featuring mostly former British colonies.
Corruption, shoddy construction and health and security issues blighted the build-up, bringing into question India’s ability to host an event of such magnitude.
An alarmed central government took control, with senior bureaucrats making all the key decisions, and the last-ditch effort seemed to have paid off.
By yesterday, athletes were settling into the Games Village which at one stage was so filthy that some teams either delayed their arrival or took rooms in city hotels.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge indicated that matters had improved yesterday.
“I think everything will be fine. Of course you can only judge the organisation at the moment of the closing ceremony but I think it’s going well,” he told Times Now channel, adding that a successful Games could be the foundation for a future bid to host the Olympics.
Outside the stadium, the usually bustling city of 16 million people looked deserted as 100,000 security personnel took over, and all commercial premises were shut down by order of the city government.
Security of sports events has become a major headache in the country, especially since the militant attack on Mumbai in November 2008 which killed more than 100 people.
A dengue fever outbreak has compounded the Delhi organisers’ problems and yesterday GB Pant hospital confirmed the first case of dengue in the athletes’ village, Indian lawn bowls team member Ruptu Gogoi.
“This is the first case of dengue that has come to us,” a hospital spokesman told Reuters. “In all probability he got it from outside the village. The guy has been in Delhi since March. He is stable now. We are planning to release him tomorrow.”
Yesterday, Delhi added to the Games infrastructure legacy when a new 15-km stretch of the city’s metro was opened.
“This was the most difficult line that we completed and we were able to meet the target set for us. It should have been completed in March next year, we completed it five to six months ahead of schedule,” Anuj Dayal, the spokesman for the Metro, told Reuters.
The metro’s first phase opened in 2005 within a budget of $2.3 billion and nearly three years ahead of schedule.
The second phase, which cost around $4.25 billion and boasts a high-speed airport link beneath the capital’s clogged and at times chaotic roads, has now been finished in time for the Games.
The sporting competition starts with the women’s 200m freestyle swimming heats today. Weightlifting and gymnastics medals are also up for grabs on the first day.
The Games close on October 14.
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