Sunday, October 3, 2010

Commonwealth Games Open

AS 7,000 dancers cavort with giant puppets beneath a vast balloon, the Commonwealth Games kick off yesterday in an explosion of noise and colour.

But as VIPs including Prince Charles watched the opening ceremony's drama, behind the scenes in Delhi there was yet more slapstick comedy as the chaos and bungling continued.

On the eve of today's first competitions, dozens of scoreboards were not in place and crucial timing equipment had still not been installed - meaning potential world records may not stand.

Almost half the 22,000 volunteer helpers supposed to guarantee the games go smoothly had done a runner - with the smart kit they were given for taking part.

A case of the potentially-deadly dengue fever had been reported inside the athletes' village. And in a cock-up that sums up the shambles, the 10metre diving board had been found to be 10.7 metres high.

In the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium there was no sign of the anarchy as Prince Charles, Camilla and Prince Edward watched the three-hour ceremony.

It began with thousands of performers blowing horns while drummers hammered out a beat.

Then, as fireworks lit up the sky, the world's largest helium balloon lifted 90ft off the ground - dangling eight 20ft-tall dancing puppets in Indian costume.

Some of the 6,000 athletes from the 71 teams competing in the 19th games then paraded around.

The cheerful facade cracked only once - when a segment of the 60,000 crowd booed organising committee chief Suresh Kalmadi as he stood up to speak. The jeers reflected a growing fury over the scale of the blunders. The run up to the games, only the second held in Asia, has been a PR disaster.

First a collapsing bridge, then tales of the filthy athletes' village - followed by deadly snakes, monkeys and dogs on in the venues, a dengue fever outbreak and the spiralling £3.8billion bill.

Many events face delays because transport, scoring systems and refereeing arrangements are in disarray. The diving board debacle is typical. A source said: "The height of the board is creating havoc for the divers. They just can't get their entry into the pool right. Ten metres is ten metres. It should be simple. But it's a farce."

Games organisers are working around the clock to install scoreboards at venues and check the so-far untested timing systems.

It has led to fears British stars such as swimmer Rebecca Adlington, due to compete today, and sprinter Mark Lewis-Francis, may break records only for them not to stand because of faulty equipment.

New Zealand netball chief Lindy Murphy said today's initial game with England is under threat.

She said: "At this stage I don't know how we can start. These people have no concept of how high-performance sport works." Delhi, a city of 13 million people, was yesterday placed in lock-down amidst fears of a terrorist attack.

All shops, cinemas and restaurants were shut, there were road blocks throughout the city - and soldiers patrolled the streets.

There is more trouble on the horizon. More than 700 drivers due to transport athletes and officials refused to work yesterday in protest at long hours and bad food.

But Minister for Delhi Sheila Dikshit knows who is to blame. The media. She said yesterday: "Why don't the media focus on positive things like the new bus depot we have opened in Delhi?"

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