Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wanted: some ‘Islam’ in CWG ceremonies

Critical of the absence of any reference to “Islamic influence on Indian history,” in either the opening or closing ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games, the Group of Ministers has asked the Games organisers to provide a “true” representation of India’s inclusive culture by weaving this in.

It’s learnt that the issue was raised at a recent meeting of the GoM, where ministers previewed the ceremonies designed by international consultants under the guidance of filmmaker Shyam Benegal, lyricist Prasoon Joshi and Javed Akhtar.
The ministers argued that Islam was a very important aspect of Indian culture and must be showcased at a global platform like the Commonwealth Games.

Those present at the meeting were Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy, Tourism Minister Kumari Selja and Minister of State (Finance) Namo Narain Meena.

The government is spending about Rs 300 crore on the ceremonies. Sources said the organising committee is asking for another Rs 75 crore for room and board for artists who will perform at the ceremonies.

Sources said that there will be 5,771 performers at the opening ceremony and 5,371 for the closing ceremony and they will rehearse at the Army parade ground.

Rehearsals for the opening ceremony will begin on Aug 1 and from September 12 for the Closing ceremonies.

music composer A R Rahman has been engaged for the opening music segment — the Rhythm of India — and he’s going to use a confluence of different instruments to create the composition.

Diver hurt at Commonwealth Games swimming complex

In a freak accident, a diver was injured Tuesday at the Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Swimming Complex during the National Federation Cup, a test event for the Commonwealth Games.

The accident took place when Priyanka Banejee from West Bengal was going to dive and a cover on the water drainage system around theswimming pool came loose. She received injuries in her leg.

The incident raised concerns about safety and security of participants at the venues.

The swimming complex was inaugurated on July 18 and Monday, on the eve of the swimming meet,the false ceiling of the warmup pool at the complex gave away.

It was a lucky escape for the organisers, as no swimmers were around. More than 250 swimmers and divers are taking part in this tournament.

Upside-down Commonwealth games

Swimming on the athletics track, water polo in the gymnasium, orgies on the hockey astroturf! It is perfectly understandable if these are some of the nightmares suffered by not just the Commonwealth Games organisers but by the Delhi chief minister and Union minister for sports and youth affairs (pun unintended). When not telecasting images of leaking roofs, mountains of debris and stadia half-built and still-incomplete with just 67 days to go for the inauguration of the Commonwealth Games, the media has been highlighting allegations of sexual harassment of India’s women hockey players by the male coach.

So much so that Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s standard response to media queries these days is ‘Please leave us alone’. The only reassurance is from the games organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi who maintains that everything is hunky-dory and from the country’s urban development minister Jaipal Reddy who tells us that Indians excel at leaving things till the last minute and then doing a good job. It is an optimism that is, alas, not shared by Delhi chief minister, going by reports that she has threatened to blacklist contractors who do not complete their work on time or do a shoddy job.

New Delhi overlays seven cities that have come up in the past. So is it time to seek some inspiration from the mythological past? In the good old days of Indraprastha, builders of cities could rely on the divine architect Vishwakarma to design and complete palaces, stadia, etc a jiffy.

If nothing else, such an intervention could spare us both the televised wailing of those Cassandras who tell us now that India should never have bid for the Commonwealth Games or the never-say-die optimism of those Caesars who maintain that mega sporting events are just what the masses want, in a debate that resonates from the days of gladiator-sports in the Colosseum of ancient Rome!

Rs 35,000 cr for Games waste, should’ve gone to poor kids: Mani Shankar Aiyar

UPA’s in-house critics appear determined to embarrass the government. Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, who routinely advertises that he is not on the same page with the government on policy issues, on Tuesday said that only evil minds can patronise the Commonwealth Games. He also said that he would be unhappy if the games were a success.

This drew sharp reaction from CWG Organising Committee chief Suresh Kalmadi, who lost no time in dismissing the former sports minister’s remarks as “irresponsible” and “anti-national.”

The verbal spat was initiated by Mr Aiyar when he was asked to comment on the rainy morning by some mediapersons outside Parliament House. “I am delighted in a way because rains are causing difficulties for the Commonwealth Games. Basically, I will be very unhappy if the games are successful because then they will start bringing Asian Games, Olympic Games and all those,” the former sports minister replied.

Explaining his opposition to the Games, Mr Aiyar said a whopping Rs 35,000 crore were being spent on the sporting event, when it should have been spent on children who did not have the basic facilities to play. “Those who are patronising the Games can only be evil. They cannot be God. Thousands of crores are being spent on circuses like these while the common children are being deprived of basic facilities to play,” Mr Aiyar said, adding that all “expectations” from the Games had been belied.

Mr Aiyar also alleged that India had bribed other Commonwealth nations for the Games. “To take the Games, the Olympic association of every Commonwealth country was given $1 lakh...it was given to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Britain. Those countries did not need this money,” he said adding that “I would call it a bribe.”

Not the one to take Mr Aiyar’s acerbic attack lying down, Mr Suresh Kalmadi hit back soon after calling the senior Congress leader’s comments “ridiculous” and “irresponsible.” “No Indian national can speak like that,” he retorted. “No individual can spoil the Games. It is totally irresponsible and ridiculous statement from such a senior person, who has also headed the sports ministry earlier,” said Mr Kalmadi.

“With the Commonwealth Games fast approaching, he should know his responsibilities and think before making such a statement. He is an elected member of Rajya Sabha but it is totally an anti-national statement from him,” he added.

Not stopping at that, Mr Kalmadi made it a point to raise Mr Aiyar’s earlier stint as a sports minister when he had spoken against the CWG. “It was because of his openness that he was removed from the sport minister’s post. If he would have been the minister, the Commonwealth Games would never have come to India,” the CWG organising committee chief said.

The Congress too distanced itself from Mr Aiyar’s remarks. “I do not take him seriously,” party MP Sandeep Dikshit said.

BJP, which has also raised questions about the preparations and the manner in which funds were being used, said irresponsible statements should not be made on the issue. SP, though not agreeing with Mr Aiyar’s observations which it said were made for “sadistic pleasure,” sought an inquiry into the huge funds that had been blown up for the Games.

Commonwealth Games: Now, DD paints hazy picture on telecast

The high definition telecast of the Commonwealth Games is in jeopardy. There are major glitches with the lighting at three major sporting arenas that are likely to adversely impact conditions required for the promised high quality television.

At a review meeting on Monday, the DD team drew attention to certain features of stadia that affected light quality and said it needed to better control luminosity even during day time sporting events. This was needed for the telecast promised to viewers as well as advertisers as DD will be the major TV platform.

At the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium's wrestling and weightlifting arenas, the light streaming in from high windows that are like skylights is a problem for the telecast. The windows need to be blocked out so that light conditions can be monitored to the satisfaction of the DD team.

Similarly, at the newly recast Talkatora swimming stadium, light reflects off the water in a manner that affects TV operations. And at the shooting range, a large ledge is obstructing the view in a such a way so as to prevent a clear line of sight to the target. In all three venues, DD needs an even and consistent quality of light necessary for HD telecast.

The DD team explained that it cannot use a combination of light sources and it has to have a stable and largely unchanging intensity of illumination.

The problems need to be resolved soon so that DD can do the trial runs but the Sports Authority of India, which run the stadia, has said there is very little it can do. While some feel DD was being too exacting, the broadcaster has said that HD requirements are fairly demanding. It points out that even in the 1982 Asian Games, the atrium at JLN was blocked out.

The SAI view is that structural aspects of the venues cannot now be changed and while technical additions can be considered to enhance the telecast, these would have to take into account the existing physical infrastructure. DD crews have pointed out that in such a case, they cannot guarantee the telecast.

Much of the projected advertising is dependent on DD which will anchor the show with international partners. As it is, the organising committee is being closely questioned about revenues it will be raising by way of sponsors with the Games now just a couple of months away.

The telecast issues only serve to underline how preparation for the Games have been a piecemeal business with one wing not cognisant of another's needs. Telecast is so intrinsic to any mega sporting event that it is surprising how DD was not part of the loop for so long.

Reports of how the Games are rolling out are conveyed regularly to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who is understood to be keen that the event be held in a smooth and well-planned manner. Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar has held more than 60 meetings, including one last Friday, and is also keeping the PM informed about how the Games are coming along.

Neetu Chandra carried the flame

What Akshay Kumar did for the Winter Olympics in Canada, our Bollywood siren Neetu Chandra has donet for the Commonwealth Games. She ran with the Queen’s torch in her hometown Patna last week.

“Neetu became one of the few privileged Bollywood celebrities to have the honour of running with the Commonwealth Games’ torch in her hometown Patna. Neetu was selected for the relay, popularly known as Queen’s Baton relay, owing to her active association with sports,” says a source. The news was also confirmed by Neetu’s spokesperson.

“Apart from being a regular basketball player, the actress is a Black Belt and has participated in various martial arts tournaments at the national and international level,” the source adds.

The actor is excited that she got an opportunity that very few Bollywood celebs have got so far.

“The Commonwealth Games promote international integration, so it was a huge honour for me to sprint with the torch. I got goose bumps in excitement,” she says.

Neetu says that she feels that the Queen’s baton is a symbol of power. “The Queen’s Baton felt like a power baton and gave me a different kind of high. It was a mix of pride and responsibility,” she adds.

The baton will arrive at the 2010 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony on October 3, 2010, in New Delhi after visiting the other 70 nations of the Commonwealth and travelling throughout India, reaching millions of people to join in the celebrations for the Games.

CWG-related contracts, construction work under CVC scanner

The Central Vigilance Commission is examining all construction work related to Commonwealth Games being undertaken by civic agencies following complaints of alleged large-scale corruption. The anti-corruption watchdog has also decided to formulate vigilance guidelines to check Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects.

"Apart from expeditiously attending to complaints relating to the Games, the Commission, through its Chief Technical Examiner's Wing, is keeping a close watch on all the contracts and works undertaken for the Commonwealth Games," Chief Vigilance Commissioner Pratyush Sinha said in an interview.

The decision comes following complaints alleging discrepancies in the work being undertaken by civic agencies like Municipal Corporation of Delhi, New Delhi Municipal Council, Delhi Development Authority and Central Public Works Department among others.

"Since PPP scheme is at a nascent stage and involves numerous complexities, the Commission has constituted a committee to formulate a strategy for vigilance response. Vigilance guidelines for PPP projects would be finalised soon", said Sinha.

The CVC said the Commission is facing a shortage of senior officers. "There is shortage of Deputy Secretaries or Directors who are at the cutting edge of the Commission's work. All examination in the Commission is initiated and conducted by them and as a result, the existing staff is overburdened," he said.

"The Commission does not normally face any difficulty except delays. The Commission has placed special emphasis on capacity-building of vigilance administration to train the staff in investigation," Sinha said.

According to official data, the strength of probity watchdog is about 290 and faces a shortage of about 25 senior officials.

Asked about steps being taken by it to check corruption, the official said "the Central Vigilance Commission is only a recommendatory body which advises suitable disciplinary action against government officials.

"It is for the administrative authority to impose the punishment effectively and promptly.... What is of concern, from an impressionistic view, is that deviations are noticed in the case of higher level officials and occur in some organisation," the CVC said.

Textiles, crafts of India on show during Commonwealth Games

A confluence of 'bazaars' displaying the best of textiles and artistic wares from across the country will provide a glimpse of India's traditional art and culture to visitors during the Commonwealth Games.

Although Ministry of Textiles through the Development Commissioners (DC) Handicraft and Handlooms regularly sets up such fairs throughout India, for the upcoming Games artisans and weavers are set to converge at the 'golden triangle' of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, according to official sources.

Kanjeevaram silk from Tamil Nadu, Patachitra from Orissa, Chikankari from Lucknow and Mojiris from Rajasthan are a sample of textiles that would be exhibited at the outlets.

During the first two weeks in October, a total of 150 national awardees along with masters specialising in crafting handmade goods and weaving cloth would come together at a special master creation programme in the capital.

The bazaars, typical of centuries-old markets in India are expected to be set up along the 'Golden Triangle' route in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur especially to attract visitors from countries participating at the Games.

"Special Master creation programme held every year during December will be now take place in October. Gandhi Shilp Bazaars will also be set up each in Jaipur and Agra keeping in mind the tourists visitingalong with Delhi," Alka Arora, Additional Development Commissioner (Handicraft) said.

The Textiles Ministry organises annually the Special Master Creation Programme with an investment of Rs 17-20 lakhs at the Dilli Haat under administration of the Delhi Tourism and Transport Development Corporation.

Also the Ministry in collaboration with different handicraft corporations and NGOs regularly sets up "Gandhi Shilp Bazaars" across various cities in the country.

Both the Shilp Bazaars and the master creation programme would be held jointly during the Games with 100 of the 150 stalls reserved for the award winning craftsmen and the remaining to be shared by award winning weavers.

"The special Master Creation programme is something people in and around Delhi wait eagerly for as one gets the best of the products from the best of the artisans and weavers," says a senior official from DC Handloom.

"We have already posted letters to the National awardees to exhibit their wares during October 1-15th in Dilli Haat," says a senior official.

Lajwanti (55) from Punjab a national award winner who specialises in Phulkari embroidery is quite upbeat about exhibiting during the Games.

"I have been invited to exhibit in Delhi from October 1 and am expecting a lot of visitors," says Lajwanti. "If we sell good stuff then obviously our country will get a good name," she adds.

Besides DilliHaat in Delhi, artisans in clusters from particular locations specialising in specific products would set up stalls at the Rajiv Gandhi Handicraft Bhawan here and the different state emporiums in the heart of Delhi.

"The open space outside the state emporiums will also be used for exhibits from their respective states," says a senior Textile Ministry official

"State emporiums have a beautiful collection of handlooms and they have been asked to keep enough stocks during the Games," the official adds.

Cotton, silk, wool, linen, yarn products, various apparels, daily wear and accessories in wood, metal, bamboo glass, stone and other tribal materials are a range of the materials expected to be showcased at the stalls.

"The whole feel of an Indian bazaar would be recreated with bandwalahas and puppeteers and mehendi wallahs who are everywhere in an typical fair being brought in to pep up the atmosphere," says the official.

"Cultural programmes are also being planned with Delhi administration at various venues," he adds.

Will be happy if Commonwealth Games are spoilt: Aiyar

As the Congress-led governments in Delhi and the centre  pray for a successful Commonwealth Games, Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar Tuesday said he would be "unhappy" if the Games were a success.

"Personally, I will be unhappy if the Commonwealth Games are successful," Aiyar, a nominated Rajya Sabha member, told reporters outside parliament.

"I am very happy with the rains, firstly because it will ensure a good agriculture for the country and secondly because it will ensure that the Commonwealth Games are spoilt," Aiyar said.

"If the Commonwealth Games are successful, they will further organise Asian Games and other events... I will be happy if the Games are spoilt," he said.

Aiyar said the funds spent for the Oct 3-14 Games could have been utilised for ensuring a better sporting future for Indian children by providing them sports training.

"Just imagine if we would have spent the Rs.35,000 crore in providing training to the children, we would have won medals in every internationalsporting event," Aiyar added.

Sex, corruption scandals tarnish India’s sport image

Allegations of sexual misconduct involving two national coaches exacerbated the problems engulfing Indian sport and had the head of the Olympic association running for cover this week at the launch of the Commonwealth Games tennis centre.

IOA president Suresh Kalmadi literally had to plead with Delhi’s chief minister for safe passage on Monday to avoid a hoard of reporters demanding answers to questions of impropriety in national sports, including the sexual misconduct allegations against national field hockey and weightlifting coaches.

The New Delhi Commonwealth Games have been plagued by delays in the construction of infrastructure and venues, which should have been finished months ago for test events but instead, are just starting to come on line now, cutting it fine with competition set to commence on October 3.

The problems within hockey and weightlifting ranks in the last week have only sharpened the focus on trouble in Indian sports.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India, the financial powerhouse in the international game, was already under investigation from federal tax authorities over perceived irregularities in the running of the immensely popular, multibillion dollar Indian Premier League.

The head of the IPL is under suspension and investigation by the BCCI and the tax regulators, but denies any wrongdoing.

As have the field hockey and weightlifting coaches, at the centre of controversies involving allegations relating to young, female athletes.

India’s Sports Minister M.S. Gill said his ministry would investigate the allegations against the hockey and weightlifting coaches in a “professional and impartial way.”

The ministry confirmed it was investigating allegations against M.K. Kaushik, who resigned as India’s women’s coach after player Ranjita Devi complained to Hockey India that he’d sexually harassed her during the recent Canada and China tours.

Hockey India had already referred the case to Delhi Police. Kaushik has threatened legal action against the national federation for holding the complaints against him as credible without verifying them.

The Sports Ministry also announced it was withdrawing weightlifting coach Ramesh Malhotra from a national training camp after Olympic bronze medallist Karnam Malleswari alleged that Malhotra had been sexually harassing athletes for a decade.

The weightlifting federation suspended Malhotra on the weekend pending an investigation led by IWF vice president Kumbasi Subramanya.

Malhotra denied he’d ever “misbehaved” with women weightlifters, telling the Press Trust of India that Malleswari’s allegations were “false” and aimed at tarnishing his reputation.

The problems involving the coaches haven’t kept Kalmadi out of the spotlight. The leading figure in the fight against a recent government move to impose age and term limits on national sports administrators, Kalmadi has reportedly been described as the “dirty face of Indian sports” by a candidate running for the Hockey India presidency.

Former India captain Pargat Singh, who will be contesting the hockey vote on Wednesday, accused Kalmadi of meddling in the running of national sports federations by promoting candidates who would follow his instructions or getting administrators bogged down in court.

Kalmadi has spent the last year defending New Delhi’s preparations for the Commonwealth Games – the first major multi-sport event to be staged in India since the Asian Games in 1982 – insisting that the event will be a major success. Some of the leading athletes, including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, have already indicated they won’t be competing in Delhi, taking some gloss off the event.

Kalmadi’s image took another hit at the R.K. Khanna Tennis Complex on Monday, when he found himself alone and confronted by a media pack trying to get his reaction to the comments from Pargat and news that the sports ministry had announced it was opening investigations into the hockey and weightlifting cases.

After offering no comment – “Nothing to say, please ... please ...” PTI reported that Kalmadi had to approach Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and ask for an escort out of the venue, explaining that the media was hounding him over Pargat’s comments.

She made space in the official vehicle, and Kalmadi reportedly smiled at journalists and photographers as he left the stadium.

Pargat’s allegations that Kalmadi was trying to manipulate the administration of hockey by endorsing an 83-year-old candidate as president came 48 hours before the election.

“He is a destroyer,” Pargat was quoted as saying by PTI. “He talks of the Olympic movement but he has destroyed the Olympic institution. Such dirty people should be thrown out of sports.”

Delhi 2010 names six Indian champions Brand Ambassadors

Organising Committee Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi today named a group of six ace sportspersons as Brand Ambassadors for the Games to be held here from October 3 to 14.

Olympic and world 10m air rifle champion Abhinav Bindra, world no. 2 badminton player Saina Nehwal, the athlete of the 2006 Commonwealth Games Samaresh Jung, Olympic bronze medallist boxer Vijender Kumar, Olympic bronze medallist wrestler Sushil Kumar and four-time world boxing champion MC Mary Kom are the Brand Ambassadors for Delhi 2010.

“These champions have done India proud with their achievements and will serve as remarkable Brand Ambassadors for the Games,” said Organising Committee Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi Chairman Mr, Suresh Kalmadi, MP. “Their passion, personality, and presence as well as their amazing pursuit of excellence truly reflect the vision of the Organising Committee.

“Their focus, mental strength and resilience make them role models, inspiring generations of Indians not just with their achievements but also with their work ethic, discipline and determination,” Mr. Kalmadi said. “It ties up with the ideals of the Organising Committee and I am sure these champions will inspire Indians to back the Commonwealth Games and take to Olympic sport.

“We are poised at the cusp of staging the biggest sporting celebrations ever in India and I am confident that this squad of six Brand Ambassadors will find universal appeal across the nation. I believe that they will lend their charisma to ensure that the Games are a huge draw with the people,” Mr. Kalmadi said.

About the Brand Ambassadors:

The 27-year-old Abhinav Bindra won top honours in the 10m air rifle event at the ISSF World Shooting Championship in Zagreb in 2006 and the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. He has also won two gold, a silver and a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester and Melbourne.

Barely 20, Saina Nehwal has endeared herself to the hearts of millions of Indian sports fans with her consistent performances in the past two years. Beginning with a quarterfinal appearance at the Olympic Games, she has won three Super Series crowns in the past 12 months

The air pistol expert Samaresh Jung, 40, has won seven gold medals, three silver and a bronze in the last two editions of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester and Melbourne. His haul of five gold, a silver and a bronze in 2006 saw him being named for the David Dixon Award for the best athlete of the Games.

Besides his Olympic Games middleweight boxing bronze medal in Beijing, the 24-year-old Vijender Singh has won a silver medal in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne as well as bronze medals in the Asian Games at Doha in 2006 and the World Amateur Boxing Championship at Milan in 2009.

Sushil Kumar, 27, won the bronze medal at the Olympic Games in 2008 and is a two-time bronze medal winner at the Asian Wrestling Championships in 2003 and 2008. He also has three gold medals at the Commonwealth Wrestling Championship in 2003, 2005 and 2007.

Besides winning the World Championship crowns in 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008, Mary Kom, 27, has claimed the Asian Championship prize as many as three times. Having coming back to boxing as mother of twins, she is an inspiration across the country and widely respected as one of the finest women champions in India.

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