Thursday, September 2, 2010

Delhi's games preparations still face problems

With just 30 days to go before the official opening of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, organizers continue to struggle with basic preparations like safety certificates for structures and the wherewithal to fight a potential epidemic.

A fourth missed deadline for construction work and a spurt in cases of dengue fever _ a mosquito-borne virus _ are the latest setbacks to the threaten an event already plagued by allegations official of poor building practices and bogus building approvals .

The venues, which were scheduled to be ready by August 31, are now unlikely to completed until September 15, just a day before athletes and officials start arriving for the games Oct. 3-14 games.

Despite the setbacks, chief organizer Suresh Kalmadi is confident the infrastructure will be ready for the games.

"We are getting all the required certificates pertaining to completion, safety and fire and sending them to the Commonwealth Games Federation," Kalmadi said at a media conference Thursday.

But Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has expressed less confidence of late.

"The rains have spoilt our plans. Let us hope we do not get more showers, or else we will be in big trouble," she said this week.

The prolonged monsoon has not just delayed the completion of venues, but has also brought the threat of dengue as mosquitoes have been spotted at water logged areas near venues and the games village.

There have been over a thousand reported cases of dengue at government hospitals in New Delhi and many more in private medical centers.

Health secretary Sujata Rao fears the virus has the potential to become an epidemic.

"This fever has a four-year cycle and unfortunately this is the year it is due to spread more," Rao said. "However, it has not been as life threatening as during previous years."

Some participating countries have issued health warnings for their athletes, while as many as 24 have written to the organizing committee enquiring about its status.

"The central, state and municipality is fighting dengue on a war-footing," said Kalmadi. "There are over 1,800 doctors on the job and the government is trying to ensure the threat comes down by mid-September."

Concerns over the potential success of the games are not limited to the organizational front.

Top sprinters Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell of Jamaica, Olympic swimming champion Stephanie Rice and cyclist Chris Hoy are among the top names to have withdrawn from the games.

But Kalmadi, whose organizing team has been mired in graft allegations, said: "There will be enough stars to make this an attractive event."

As for Indian athletes, there has been no home advantage as they have not been close to the venues except for some farcical test events that were devoid of good competition.

Kalmadi was confident Indians would do well as "the camps were going on well, even though at distant cities."

Commonwealth Games chief Mike Fennell said on a recent visit to New Delhi that he was satisfied with security assurances, but traffic snarls posed a threat.

"I hope something is done about the traffic. It needs to be systematized so that things run smoothly during the games," he said.

Among other challenges are the sale of tickets and merchandise, the launch of which also missed deadlines.

"The ticket sales will pick up in the coming days. As for the merchandise, we have just launched it on Thursday after a delay," Kalmadi said.

A month away, India seeks a Commonwealth Games miracle

The Commonwealth Games are often known as the “friendly games” but New Delhi has little to smile about one month before the opening ceremony.

The city has undertaken huge infrastructure improvements ahead of the October 3 opening, ranging from building new metro lines and flyovers to renovating whole urban districts.

But with time ticking away, many of the civic projects are far from finished, and fears are growing that the sports venues will not be up to international competition standards.

The Commonwealth Games Federation has repeatedly warned organisers that ongoing work at stadiums has delayed the installation of electronic equipment essential for the smooth running of events.

Barefoot migrant workers toil at new metro stations and at rubble-strewn venues across the city, struggling to make progress as unusually heavy monsoon rains have hit in recent weeks.

Poor ticket sales, a lack of sponsors, security fears, corruption scandals and a major outbreak of dengue fever have also filled India’s newspapers with tales of woe.

The organising committee and the government are putting on a brave face, but hopes have faded that Delhi would bathe in the same type of positive light that Beijing enjoyed during the Olympic Games in 2008.

On Wednesday, a Times of India poll reported that 76 percent of Delhi residents felt the estimated three-billion-dollar cost of the Games was unjustified, and 50 percent said preparations had severely disrupted their lives.

“It would be an understatement to describe the situation as alarming. It is calamitous,” the Telegraph newspaper quoted an unnamed senior official as saying.

Many of the delays have been blamed on crooked construction deals, while safety certificates for new buildings were also alleged to have been faked.

Best-selling author Chetan Bhagat, writing recently in the Times, urged the public to boycott the Games to protest against the “most blatant exercise in corruption in independent India’s history”.

Queen's Baton Relay on Sunday

The Queen's Baton Relay for the Commonwealth Games is all set to pass through Mangalore on September 5.

Addressing a press conference here, Deputy Commissioner V. Ponnuraj said that the relay team would arrive at Nellyadi, Puttur taluk, at 12.30 p.m. on September 5 from Hassan. District in-charge Minister J. Krishna Palemar, zilla panchayat president K. Santhosh Kumar Bhandary and former international sportspersons Sanjeeva Puttur and Pushparaj Hegde would welcome the team at Nellyadi, he said.

Later, the relay team would be escorted to Kadri Park here from where the relay would begin at 5.30 p.m. Mayor of Mangalore Rajani Dugganna would hand over the baton to recipients of the Arjuna Award Vandana Rao, Vandana Shanbagh and Shobha Narayana, he said.

Mr. Ponnuraj appealed to the people to participate in the event in large numbers and offer a warm welcome to the team at Kadri. “Since it will be a Sunday, a large number of people can participate in the programme. It is a matter of prestige for the district,” he said.

Commissioner of Police Seemanth Kumar Singh said that the police would cordon off from the morning the area through which the relay team would pass.

The relay team would proceed towards the Town Hall via Bejai Church Road, Lalbagh, PVS Circle, Ambedkar Circle, and Hampankatta. On the way, the baton would change hands at 20 points identified by the district administration. The district administration will be organising five cultural programmes and hosting a dinner for the team at the Town Hall, Mr. Ponnuraj said.

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