Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Concerns India will lose face over Commonwealth Games

The games were meant to showcase a rising India; instead, they may end up being a major embarrassment

QUEEN ELIZABETH will not inaugurate the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October – the first time she has missed the event in four decades. Instead, she is sending Prince Charles to represent her as head of the colonial grouping.

The queen cited an overfull calendar as the reason for her absence from the games, which run from October 3rd to 14th.

She will miss an event billed domestically as one that promises to showcase a rising India but that so far promises to be anything but a celebration of the country’s progress.

It is questionable whether the British monarch is genuinely busy or whether she is wary of inaugurating an event which, a mere 120 days away, is far from ready and has the real potential to be an embarrassment.

The games, worth more than $3 billion (€2.44 billion), were considered an opportunity to display the “new India”, with its impressive economic growth rate and rising status as an Asian power. Instead, there is now a desperate scramble to prevent the event from becoming a humiliating failure.

Several sporting venues including the main track and field stadium, the swimming venue and the participants’ residential village complex are far from ready. Indeed, most of the Commonwealth Games sites across Delhi are besieged with cranes and open pits and rife with desultory building activity nowhere near completion.

Numerous road and rail overpasses required to ferry athletes and spectators through Delhi’s chaotic traffic are simply cement pillars supporting nothing.

Badly needed infrastructure that would ensure the smooth running of the games is also pitifully behind schedule, with at least half of 20 critical bridges and overpasses in all likelihood abandoned.

The revised December 31st, 2009, deadline for the completion of most of the work was deferred to the end of March, but this too has been pushed back to even closer to the games’ inauguration.

Commonwealth Games organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi conceded in a newspaper interview yesterday that construction work would “drag on” to the end of June but that too seems an overly optimistic assessment.

Plans to construct thousands of hotel rooms for guests have been jettisoned in favour of ad-hoc B&Bs – triggering fears that these “poor man’s Olympics” featuring 71 former British colonial states and territories could end up being mortifying for India.

This, in turn, would further inflame the country’s inferiority complex with regard to neighbouring nuclear, commercial and economic rival China, globally feted for hosting the near-flawless 2008 Beijing Olympics with all sporting, residential and spectator facilities ready in plenty of time to carry out rehearsals and resolve glitches.

Delhi will go straight into the Commonwealth Games without the luxury of dry runs in the majority of its hastily built venues.

In their mad scramble to meet long-delayed deadlines, the authorities have dropped plans to clean up several city slums, opting instead to plant bamboo groves to shield them.

The much-touted “civilising campaign” of levying fines on commonplace activities such as littering, urinating, defecating and spitting in public places has also been abandoned.

So have plans to teach taxi drivers, waiters and security staff English and international etiquette to make the participants feel comfortable.

Indian officials have repeatedly placated the panicky Commonwealth Games Federation with the well-practised line that the run-up to October’s sporting fest is akin to an Indian wedding: initially chaotic and disorganised but eventually majestic and orderly.

They insist the federation is missing a few tricks, unable to see India’s delayed genius at work.

If that were not enough, it now transpires that catering contracts for the games’ village are yet to be awarded, with not enough time for the awardees to erect their elaborate kitchens designed to feed thousands of athletes.

Security, too, poses a major challenge. The games are being conducted against the backdrop of a deteriorating internal security environment marked by a rising wave of regional extremist fundamentalism and increasing attacks by Maoists.

Various Islamist groups have threatened to disrupt the games. Though India has pledged tight security, anxiety persists, with dependence on massive security at sporting venues rather than advance work in “neutralising” potential threats.

As a further security measure, the authorities have ordered the closure of all educational institutions for the duration of the games. A fiat has also been issued for all shops, offices and business establishments to shut during the opening and closing ceremonies.

“The authorities will declare an unofficial curfew in Delhi for the duration of the games,” says

Delhi-based fashion designer Rita Paul, adding that it will be hell for the fortnight of the games and better to leave the city during that time.

Govt plans to hide unfinished Games work behind curtains

What you cannot finish, just cover up. That seems to be Delhi government’s motto, given the scale and pace of last-minute construction work for the Commonwealth Games and the impending rains which may temporarily halt most of the work.

Increasingly faced with the prospect of the work not getting completed on time, the city government, sources say, is considering putting up scaffold nettings or shade cloth of high density polythene microfilaments (that is dust and fire-proof) to cover unfinished construction sites.

This will be done ‘‘aesthetically’’ to ensure that the city does not look ‘‘under-prepared’’. ‘‘It will only be done for unfinished sites near Games venues. It should apply more for MCD and DDA than for us because our works are on course. We are not even competent to issue instructions to these agencies. Only the LG office can do so,’’ said a top Delhi government official.

Discussions about issuing a notification to restrict large-scale construction work during the first two weeks of October when Games will be on are at an advanced stage, sources say. ‘‘It is essential that the dust and grime that seems to have taken over do not hamper visitors’ impression of the city during the Games. That is why this is one of the proposals we are considering,’’ said a senior Delhi government official, confirming that sometime back, a letter had been received from the LG’s office too suggesting both the ban on construction and option of using scaffold netting to cover construction sites. Sources say the letter, signed by Ranjan Mukherjee, who is the OSD (Commonwealth Games) to the LG, was received about three months ago.

Officials say, if construction sites are indeed covered, the city would take a leaf out of other cities that have hosted mega-event like Beijing and Sydney. But a section in the government feels that better monitoring and enforcement of deadlines could have saved the city government this embarrassment.

‘‘It does not take rocket science to know that monsoon hits Delhi sometime in late June or early July, and it has a major slowdown effect on construction. After all the criticism received over the past year or so, we have allowed matters to come to such a pass that options like these have to be considered,’’ said an official closely involved with the preparations.

Preparations for CWG at advanced stage: Govt

Noting that the Commonwealth Games is an opportunity for the country to showcase its organisational capacity, the Government on Tuesday said preparations for the sporting extravaganza are at an advanced stage.

"Preparations for the event are at an advanced stage," the UPA government's 'Report to the People 2009-10' released in New Delhi by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said.

It said the Games present an "excellent opportunity" to herald India's emergence as a significant sporting nation and showcase its organisational capacity to host such a major international event.

The Games will be held in the capital from October 3 to 14.

Stadiums to showcase their arty side

Apart from holding sporting events, Delhi's stadiums will have another task during the Commonwealth Games — promoting art.

Bringing art out of the galleries to the public domain, the Delhi government has decided to install ‘public art' at two of its stadiums — Chhatrasal stadium near Delhi University and Thyagraj stadium near INA — before the Games.

Made of stainless steel, both art pieces will have abstract human figures and would be installed close to the main entrance to the stadiums.

Senior Delhi government officials the prototype of the both the pieces of art has been approved by the chief minister.

"The one at Chhatrasal stadium will have three intertwined human figures while the one at Thyagraj stadium is a single human figure," said a senior Delhi government official requesting anonymity.

According to sources, the firm who installed stainless steel sprouts near the AIIMS flyover will design the art pieces for the two stadiums as well.

"It was a transparent selection process. We had empanelled a committee of 10 persons including some well-known artists who selected the design from more than 200 entries," said a senior Delhi government official said

CWG: Scheme to upgrade facilities in guest houses

Aiming at upgrading facilities at guest houses in the capital in view of the Commonwealth Games, Tourism Ministry has introduced an Interest Subsidy Scheme.

The scheme would be applicable for loans taken to upgrade the existing facilities in approved guest houses which are allowed as per the prevailing civic bye-laws of DDA, MCD and NDMC.

Interest Subsidy proposals will take into account number of rooms as licensed by civic agency and Delhi Police. The Ministry would provide interest subsidy on loan of maximum Rs 2 lakh per room basis.

Guest house may seek higher loan but the payment of interest subsidy would be calculated at Rs 2 lakh per room subject to an overall upper limit of Rs 60 lakh per guest house, officials said.

The scheme would be effective from immediate effect and it would apply to all licensed guest houses in the capital.

The subsidy would be applicable for upgrading of flooring, furniture like bed, table, chair, luggage rack, cupboard, bathroom fixtures including WC and wash basin.

It can also be used for geyser, RO machine for drinking water, A/C, electric light fittings, common areas like lobby and reception, facade and infrastructure development works like supply of electricity, water and installation of solar heating and lighting.

Sponsors shy away from Commonwealth Games

Will the 2010 Commonwealth Games' Organizing Committee (OC) be able to repay the Rs 1,600 crore it has taken as loan from the Centre to host the mega event?

The OC's reply to an RTI on the amount raised so far from sponsorships, paints a grim picture. With just four months to go for the Games, the organizers have managed to seal deals worth just Rs 243 crore in cash.

Sponsorships, apart from TV rights, were expected to form the major chunk of revenue for the organizers, who are also expecting to raise some money through merchandising and ticket sales.

According to OC's reply to the RTI on May 11, it has on board only five sponsors - Air India, NTPC, Hero Honda, Central Bank of India and Coca Cola - for the Games so far. It has raised Rs 143 crore in cash from the sponsors and got Rs 60.70 crore in kind. Another Rs 100 crore has been promised by the Indian Railways.

The OC has roped in Australian firm Sport Marketing and Management as its advertisement consultant in charge of bringing in sponsors. SMAM was a consultant at the 2002 Manchester Games and 2006 Melbourne Games as well. The firm's commission, according to OC chairman Suresh Kalmadi, varies from 20% to 25% of the deal amount.

"They had asked for 30% commission. But after negotiations it was worked out 20% to 25%, depending on the amount they bring in," Kalmadi had told TOI recently.

Kalmadi has admitted that both Melbourne and Manchester Games did not get many multinational sponsors, an indication that the OC may also lose out on that front.

This means it would be even more difficult for OC to raise money to repay the government loan. When asked whether SMAM has been able to rope in any local sponsors, Kalmadi said: "All, except the Railways."

TV rights deals, the next big hope of fund generation, have more or less been sealed. Deals with the likes of BBC in United Kingdom and Network Ten and Foxtel in Australia among others are believed to have generated close to Rs 300 crore.

Merchandising and tickets sales are unlikely to generate a huge amount of money, which could leave OC in heavy debt after the Games are over.

Kalmadi, however, remained optimistic. "We are hopeful of getting a lot of money. We hope to cover the deficit," he said.

Intrusion detection system at Delhi airport stuck

Even as Indira Gandhi International Airport gets a facelift for the Commonwealth Games 2010, the highly sophisticated intrusion detection system has suffered a setback.

The installation of the perimeter intrusion detection system (PIDS), which is armed with thermal-imaging cameras, video-recorders and radars to detect movement of individuals and vehicles at the airport, has been delayed because of last-minute chan-ges in the original project.

Another reason for the delay is National Highway Authority of India and airport officials’ decision to construct a tunnel under the runway to connect the domestic terminal to the new integrated terminal (T3).

The ambitious project to bring metro to the airport has also contributed.

Officers of the Central Industrial Security Force that guards the Delhi airport said the project should have been completed by April 30. Sources said 70% of the project had been completed, but the remaining work was stuck.

“Installation of PIDS is part of the development projects related to terminal 3. The first phase of PIDS installation is nearing completion. The readiness of PIDS depends on the completion of the new project, ‘Northern Access Road’, connecting the domestic terminal to the new integrated terminal. In the first phase, we will cover 19 km of the total area of 27 km,” a Delhi International Airport Limited official said.

Delhi cops seek celeb help to create traffic awareness

In an ambitious and innovative project to create awareness about traffic rules before the Commonwealth Games 2010, Delhi Police are planning to rope in celebrities.

Those on police radar are Akshay Kumar, Virender Sehwag, Shah Rukh Khan and Gautam Gambhir. All four belong to Delhi and have been participating in social events in the capital.

“We want to invite celebrities who have a huge fan following, so that people listen to them when they talk on subjects such as drunken driving and traffic rules. These stars will ask people to use the public transport system and carpool,” Ajay Chadha, special commissioner for traffic, said.

Apart from film stars and cricketers, police plan to invite musicians, singers, theatre personalities and people from the fashion fraternity to join hands in solving Delhi’s traffic problems before the Games.

This is the first time that Delhi Police are planning to take celebrity help. “Since we don’t have a huge budget, we expect actors and cricketers not to charge money for this project. It is a noble cause and I am sure celebrities will come forward to help,” he said.

Apart from asking people to maintain lane discipline, celebrities will ask drivers to make way for ambulances, fire tenders and police vans.

Delhi Police said the special drive was likely to start in June and would continue till October.

PM can’t make it, OC doesn’t know who to give first ticket

After the British Queen it is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s turn to leave Commonwealth Games high and dry. The PM will not be present at the function for launch of tickets as planned by the Commonwealth Organising Committee (OC). It is learnt that with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee also expressing his inability to attend, the committee is now busy finding a suitable personality who can be presented with the first ticket.

The committee had first planned to launch the tickets on June 1, but the function was put off till June 4 as there was no clarity on who will be presented the first ticket. The committee wanted the PM to get the first ticket, but Prime Minister’s Office has expressed inability to attend the function, though Singh will be in Delhi on the day.

“We are working out details for the launch on Friday. We will be able to tell you the details by tomorrow,” said Organising Committee general secretary Lalit Bhanot from Pune.

On Friday, the committee plans to launch the tickets along with the website for online booking, a schedule book for all events and a Games handbook with details of various business establishments, contact points and so on. Top sportsmen like shooter Abhinav Bindra will be present during the launch.

Ticket to the games
The tickets are priced between Rs 50 and Rs 1,000 for all sporting events, while the opening and closing ceremonies tickets cost between Rs 750 and Rs 50,000.

Railway PSU IRCTC has already been roped in to sell the tickets from June 4. The committee hopes to sell 1.7 million tickets in all.

The tickets have been designed with inbuilt security mechanism to ensure there is no counterfeiting. All tickets have been barcoded and will be printed at Indian Security Printing Press and will carry information about the seat allotted.

The ticket holder will be photographed at the entry of the stadium and the police will have a database of all spectators.

Preparations for Commonwealth Games on track

Preparations for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October are at an advanced stage, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government asserted in its report card Tuesday.

The report card of UPA-II, released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on completion of one year in office, said the prestigious event presents an excellent opportunity to herald the country’s emergence as a significant sporting nation and showcase its organisational capacity.

“The UPA government has approved a scheme for the preparation of Indian teams for the Commonwealth Games with a budget of Rs.678 crore, which is being implemented,” said the report.

It said the government has approved a budget of Rs.11,494 crore for the successful conduct of the Games scheduled October 3-14 in the capital.

A total of 51 Commonwealth countries are participating in the mega-event.

“Besides promoting closer ties between the people of the Commonwealth countries and promoting tourism, this mega multi-disciplinary sports event will provide the nation with state-of-the-art international standard sports infrastructure,” the report card said.

According to it, over 25,000 volunteers from the National Service Scheme (NSS), National Cadet Corps (NCC), universities and colleges in and around Delhi would act as guides to sportspersons, spectators and tourists.

“It will also result in the upgradation of city infrastructure on an unprecedented scale,” it added.

CWG preparation: Increase in 'Definite' Hotel Rooms for tourists

There has been an increase in the number of 'Definite' rooms being prepared for the upcoming Commonwealth Games over the past few months, a review by the Ministry of Tourism said.

The review shows that there are 11,793 definite rooms to cater to tourists during the Games, showing an increase of 812 rooms since the previous review. Further, 8,659 rooms have been completed, out of the overall 11,793 'definite' rooms, it was revealed at a high-level meeting held under the chairmanship of Secretary Tourism Sujit Banerjee recently to take stock of the various arrangements related to the augmentation of hotel accommodation coming up for the Commonwealth Games in the National Capital Region of Delhi.

The performance of Haryana has been consistent with nearly 93 per cent of the 'definite' 7,221 rooms having been completed. The review indicated commendable performance by Uttar Pradesh since the last meeting of the Task Force held in April 2010. There are 377 functional rooms and 609 definite rooms showing an increase of 71 rooms and 303 rooms respectively in NOIDA. In respect to Greater NOIDA, the definite rooms have shown an increase by 408 rooms and thus 569 rooms have now been placed in the definite category. In Ghaziabad, there would be 672 functional rooms, and the definite category now stands at 1,363 rooms showing an increase of 295 rooms. All the land owning agencies, vis a vis, DDA, the Haryana Government, Uttar Pradesh and other stakeholders vis a vis MCD, NDMC, Ministry of Urban Development, DJB, BSES, ITDC attended the meeting.

At the meeting, the Secretary, Tourism reviewed all the new hotel projects coming up for the CWG-2010 along with the licensed Guest Houses, Bed and Breakfast establishments, DDA Housing flats located at Vasant Kunj which would be operated by ITDC. The Secretary stressed the need to ensure the timely completion of the remaining 3,134 'definite rooms by DDA, Haryana and other land owning agencies and desired that all efforts may be made to complete the maximum of 'likely' rooms into a 'definite' category.

It was requested that all the land owning agencies should also take up the upgradation and beautification of the surrounding areas and approach roads to the new hotel projects which are coming up. It was again emphasised that Setting-up of a Single Window System for the grant of various clearances to the hotels would be a positive step in this direction. It was also informed that the issue of clearances was critical for the hotels, as the benefits announced by the Government of the 5 year Tax Holiday would be available to 2, 3 and 4 star category hotels under sections 80-ID of the Income Tax Act, only if they started operation by July 31.

It is estimated that around 11,028 rooms would be available from the licensed Guest Houses in the NCT of Delhi. The Ministry of Tourism is providing skill development training to the owners and the staff of these identified licensed Guest Houses through the IHM, Pusa. Beautification / upgradation of the surrounding areas to Guest Houses in Karol Bagh, and Pahar Ganj was reviewed and MCD was directed to complete all the works regarding upgradation /beautification of the identified major and internal roads, urinal blocks, rotaries, parks and signages etc. The Secretary (Tourism) advised that these works be reviewed on a more regular basis to ensure that these are completed by June 30.

The meeting was informed that recently, Tourism Minister Kumari Selja had personally reviewed the progress of CWG related accommodation and beautification work at Paharganj on May 24.

With regard to the Bed & Breakfast establishments, It was informed during the meeting that presently there are a total of 2,007 rooms in the NCR of Delhi (1,230 rooms in Delhi and 777 rooms in the NCR ie. Gurgaon, Faridabad, Noida, Greater Noida and Ghaziabad).

The Representative of the Delhi Government informed that efforts are being made to expedite all pending applications and for wider publicity of the Scheme to enlist more homeowners to join the scheme. Secretary (Tourism) directed that the list of all the Bed and Breakfast establishment should be up dated on the official website of the Games Travel Office for wider publicity. Mr Sujit Banerjee, while appreciating the efforts made so far, directed all the concerned agencies / departments to regularly review and monitor the creation of accommodation and the measures for upgrading the infrastructure being undertaken so that sufficient time is available for booking and reservation by the tourists well before the Games.

Marathon proves trial run for Commonwealth Games

AUSTRALIA'S biggest marathon was launched in lavish style on the Gold Coast yesterday, with Premier Anna Bligh vowing to use the two-day event as an integral part of the city's 2018 Commonwealth Games bid.

Ms Bligh also announced a new $250,000 tourism marketing campaign aimed at luring runners to participate in the 2010 Gold Coast Airport Marathon and spend extra nights in the city.

She said next month's marathon would be a perfect opportunity to showcase the Coast's prowess at hosting a major sporting event.

"It's also a great world-class international event where the Gold Coast can really show what it's capable of," she said.

"It's a great feather in the cap that we'll be showcasing to the Commonwealth Games delegates next year."

Ms Bligh said interstate and foreign competitors, particularly from Asia, would be a major target of the tourism campaign.

More than 6700 runners from outside Queensland, including almost 2000 international participants, contested last year's event, and more are expected this year.

Helensvale trio to target Delhi gold

BRETT Wilkie is just steps from the pinnacle of his lawn bowling career after he was named to make his first appearance at the Commonwealth Games in October.

But the journey will be complete if Wilkie can cap his dream debut by helping Australia to gold in the men's triples in Delhi and add a Commonwealth Games title to the World Champion of Champions singles crown he secured last year.

On a huge day for the Helensvale Bowls Club, Wilkie will join 2006 gold medallists and men's triples teammate Mark Casey and women's pairs member Lynsey Armitage as the only Queensland bowlers in the 12-person team for Delhi.

"This is the pinnacle for me, I've worked hard for a lot of years and been on the fringe for a lot of years," said Wilkie of his selection.

"This is the biggest thing for me that I've been involved in and I can't wait to join the other guys and help them try and defend the title."

"But it's also so wonderful that the club can have three representative and hopefully we can return with some strong results and make them proud."

Married last weekend at Robina Woods, Casey's return to national duties comes as a reward for his patience after the 28-year-old was sensationally dumped from the team in 2008, with selectors saying it was to bring through new talent.

"He has worked his way back in there after a break," said Wilkie, who was groomsman at Casey's wedding.

"I'm really happy for him because we are good friends and we have played alongside each other for a long time now."

While it will mark a first Games for Wilkie, who turns 36 on Saturday, it will be yet another major tournament for Armitage, who at 26 has already turned out 146 times for Australia.

Despite going into Delhi without her partner from 2006, Karen Murphy, Armitage was excited and fired up to take it to their rivals with 19-year-old NSW teenager Natasha Van Eldik.

"The first time I was blown away to make it and this time I had been playing well in the lead-up, and while I wasn't expecting it, I was confident," said Armitage of her selection.

"I'm just glad I have the chance to defend my gold medal."

Australia's Commonwealth Games team:

MEN, singles: Leif Selby, 37, (St Johns Park, NSW). Pairs: Mark Berghofer, 25, (St Johns Park, NSW), Aron Sherriff, 24, (Halekulani, NSW).
Triples: Brett Wilkie, 35, (Club Helensvale, Qld), Wayne Turley, 37, (Taren Point, NSW), Mark Casey, 28, (Club Helensvale, Qld)

WOMEN: singles: Kelsey Cottrell, 20, (St Johns Park, NSW). Pairs: Lynsey Armitage, 26, (Club Helensvale, Qld), Natasha Van Eldik, 19, (Raymond Terrace, NSW). Triples: Sharyn Renshaw, 48, (St Johns Park, NSW), Claire Duke, 26, (Cabramatta, NSW), Julie Keegan, 45, (St Johns Park, NSW)

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