Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dehli struggles to escape Beijing shadow

Stunning venues, near-flawless organisation and a table-topping performance: China dazzled the world with a 2008 Olympics that leaves India's troubled Commonwealth Games in the shade.

New Delhi's Commonwealth Games have been tagged the "Shame Games" by local media after a shambolic run-up to Sunday's opening that has reinforced the nation's reputation for inefficient bureaucracy, poor infrastructure, graft and squalor.

India's travails are a far cry from southern China's Guangzhou, where up to 12,000 athletes from 45 nations are expected to attend the Asian Games in November, two years after the Beijing extravaganza.

In glaring contrast to India, Guangzhou is quietly going about finishing preparations for the Asian Games -- the world's biggest sporting event after the Olympics.

Wu Yucheng, an official at the government's Guangdong Sports Bureau, said he was aware of the problems in Delhi but declined to elaborate.

"We have been planning for the Asian Games for seven years. So we started our preparation early. We have invested a lot of money in the Games and the city infrastructure," he said.

"In Guangzhou, you can look around and you will see that a lot of things are happening. Every day you see new changes in the city.... It is not only about the Games, but it is about the city."

Fifty-eight venues have been refurbished for the Asian Games and 12 more have been built from scratch. Finishing touches are being applied a month in advance, while venue personnel are in place, testing equipment and learning their roles.

Taking pride of place is the huge, gleaming Guangzhou Olympic Centre for track and field, swimming and equestrian events.

Other competitions will be held at a brand new Asian Games Town in a semi-rural part of the city, while the opening ceremony will take place at a newly-built amphitheatre in the Pearl River skyscraper district.

Against this, the multi-sport Commonwealth Games teetered on the brink of collapse last week as some nations threatened to pull out amid worries about security, a bridge collapse and the standard of accommodation and venues.

Problems with the Delhi Games also include an outbreak of mosquito-borne dengue fever and doubts about transport, fire and evacuation procedures and medical services.

All this has dashed the hopes of the country of a billion-plus people of showcasing itself as an emerging power and delivering an event to rival Beijing, analysts say.

Concern about the negative impact was expressed by a leading Indian business lobby group.

"It is a sad state of affairs indeed and, psychologically, puts a question mark against India’s capacity to deliver," said Amit Mitra, general secretary of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

But there are signs that things are coming together at the last minute as hundreds of competitors arrived this week to take up residence in the much-criticised athletes' village. As many as 5,000 athletes from 71 nations and territories formerly linked to the British Empire are expected.

It would also be a mistake to characterise Beijing's experience as flawless and it is too early to say whether there will be any last-minute glitches at the Asian Games.

Beijing enjoyed a huge boost to its infrastructure through developments such as new subway lines, but has struggled to find a role for iconic venues such as the Bird's Nest stadium and the Water Cube aquatics centre.

Wu said both Guangzhou and Beijing had taken a comprehensive view of organisational issues and admitted there had been problems in the run-up to the Asian Games.

The deputy secretary general of the Asian Games' organising committee, Gu Shiyang, underlined planning and local support as key factors.

"Good planning is one factor, but the most important factor is the support from the government and the citizens as well as state-owned enterprises and private enterprises, the support and participation from all walks of life.

"The educational considerations are also very important. We have 50,000 volunteers for the Asian Games. Most of these volunteers are from the colleges and universities. And also we have 500,000 city volunteers."

He said in the coming weeks all venue teams would be doing rehearsals and drills to make sure their venues operated smoothly.

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