Monday, September 27, 2010

"Delhi CWG were doomed from start"

Legendary American athlete Michael Johnson joined the chorus of sports personalities who have criticised the Delhi Commonwealth Games.

The specially-built Games village for the multi-sport event, which starts on Sunday, was slammed last week as nations from around the world hit out at the poor state of its cleanliness and drainage. Johnson, now a BBC television commentator, feels that the decision to stage the Games in October, outside the mainstream season for athletics, traditionally the event's central attraction was a wrong decision.

"This edition of the Commonwealth Games was doomed from the start," Johnson wrote in his column in a British newspaper.

Reigning Olympic and World 100& 200m champion Usain Bolt has already pulled out of the Games as he wanted to focus on World Championship. "First, the timing was all wrong...Keep in mind the traditional season for athletics -- which would be one of, if not the, premier sports of the Commonwealth Games -- takes place from April to the end of August.

"That's if the athlete has not competed in the indoor season taking place in January and February.

"To finish the season in August and then go back into training or try to maintain peak competitive form is extremely difficult in preparation for an event that takes place more than one month after your last race.

"This is also taking place at a time when most track and field athletes are in their annual four to six-week break from training and this off-season could be one of the most important of all with the World Championships taking place next August." Johnson added concerns over security and reports from over a year ago that Games construction projects were falling behind schedule, as well as claims of corruption meant that "someone probably should have made the decision to pull the Games from India some time ago".

He also questioned the worth of an event restricted to former British Empire nations, saying the Commonwealth Games "have struggled in past years to get the best athletes to take them seriously" and that in athletics "a Commonwealth title barely registers any respect on a global scale." Johnson though said the Games could be a "wonderful event with a great history", adding he'd found both the 2002 and 2006 editions in Manchester and Melbourne respectively to be "thrilling and well organised".

"Unfortunately, it looks like Delhi will be a bit of a letdown," he added. But even before the row over the state of the village erupted, several leading athletes, including Jamaican sprint star Usain Bolt, had already withdrawn from the Games.

CWG saga takes new twist, Hooper spews venom

ALTHOUGH NEGATIVE counting has begun for the grand event, the XIX Commonwealth Games 2010, bizarre events are still unfolding, adding new twist and drama to the event. In the latest twist, one of the senior most officials linked with the hosting of the games, Mike Hooper, the chief executive officer (CEO) of the games fired salvo on the Organising Committee, the Government of India, the government of Delhi for the widespread mess up and lacunae in the run of to the games.

Following the footprints of Suresh Kalmadi, the head of the Organising Committee, Mike Hooper is also not willing to admit mistake for the fiasco on various fronts. Hooper has categorically blamed other stake holders for all the mess up engulfing the preparation of the Commonwealth Games. In an interview given to a New Zealand based television channel, Hooper squarely blamed the government of the host city, New Delhi, the Government of India, Organising Committee and other stake holders for missing deadlines time and again, shoddy pace of work and infrastructure.

In a one to one interview Hooper told the channel, “We are in the hands and the mercy of, effectively, the government of India, the Delhi government, the agencies responsible for delivery of the venues. They consistently failed to meet deadlines. Now, we were very active, very strong in pushing for this to be done. The actual venues were not handed over effectively and I say handed over from the point of view of getting venue- completion certificates and occupancy certificates. ”

Hooper’s outburst didn’t end here; he took Indian population to task during the interview televised on Sunday (September 26). Hooper held the massive population responsible for traffic chaos on the roads; and asked for a 24x7 exclusive lane for Commonwealth Games.

Whatever venom Hooper spewed though has not gone down well with many politicians and bureaucrats, it is the harsh reality, we must accept. The stake holders have collectively failed in their endeavours to deliver. Somewhere buck has to stop.
Now enough has been written and criticised, its time for all stake holders involved in the hosting of the game to work as a cohesive unit and facilitate in organising majestic Commonwealth Games. Enough venom and mudslinging has taken place, country’s image is at stake, lets support the Commonwealth Games and play our role anyhow after all it is our event.

Chennai girl raring to go past hurdles at the Games

Gayathri Govindraj's on the last leg of her training before she goes to New Delhi for the Commonwealth Games (CWG). The 20-year-old is just back from Bangalore, where she went to attend the national coaching camp but left halfway as she wanted to train with her own coach. "My coach understands me best and knows how to help me train," says the Chennai girl, who will be competing in the triple jump and 100 metre hurdles. She is also one of the youngest athletes at the CWG.

About 10 years ago, Gayathri was training for a school event when P Nagarajan spotted her. He advised her to train with him at Prime Sports Academy for free. Since then there's been no looking back. "Gayathri is one of the youngest athletes selected for the CWG and she has her best years ahead of her," Nagarajan says. "She had a good run in the world junior championships where she reached the final of the 100m hurdles. We hope she'll do well in Delhi too."

Though she is participating in two events, she says she hasn't decided which event to prioritise. "Right now, I am training generally focusing on increasing my fitness levels and building up my strength. That should hold me in good stead," says Gayathri, 20, who spends two hours in the morning and three to four hours every evening in training.

Nagarajan says, "Statistically speaking, she has a greater chance of getting a medal in the triple jump. So we might ask her to train keeping that event in mind. But right now, the training is general."

Training for the two events is similar. "Running is a vital part of both. You need a good start and only then will you be able to get the necessary lift to jump. The other similarity is learning to keep your balance right. In triple jump, before the final leap the athlete must know how to adjust steps so that he or she does not make one error

that could harm the jump. In hurdles, the athlete has to learn how to balance himself after the jump and then run and jump again," he says.

Sheila says Hooper’s remarks unkind, but Fennell thinks she is just overreacting

Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit seems to have decided to take on Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) CEO Mike Hooper. A day after he demanded that the Games lane restrictions be implemented for 24 hours, blaming traffic snarls in the city on India’s vast population, the CM hit back saying the remarks were “very unkind and undiplomatic”.

However, Hooper received strong backing from CGF boss Mike Fennell, who insisted that the New Zealander neither blamed the Indian government nor made any disparaging comments about the country’s vast population being responsible for traffic snarls, as reported in the media. “Far from any emotive commentary, Hooper merely stated the fact that the responsibility for delivering and operating the Games lies with authorities in India, as per the Host City contract,” Fennell said. “What I have witnessed today is a vicious and totally unwarranted attack on Mike Hooper based on entirely false reports,” he added.

Dikshit also blamed the DDA, which comes under Union Urban Development Ministry, for the mess that the Games Village is currently in. She also said that the builder (Emaar-MGF) should have looked at the flats before handing them over. “We inherited it (the Village) in a very difficult situation. It is improving almost by the hour. We are working very hard,” she said.

“I do hope that at the end of it everything will be alright...of course there is some seepage which the builder and the DDA should have looked into earlier,” Dikshit said, adding that every effort is to improve things at the much-criticised Games Village complex. “Now, we are cleaning up the rooms, we are cleaning up the public areas, the corridors and staircases,” the Chief Minister said.

Asked whether the entire complex will be ready by Wednesday, her new deadline, Dikshit just said some buildings are still wet and authorities are finding it difficult to drain out the stagnant water from the basements. “I won’t give you a timeline... It depends on how dry the buildings become, how quickly the water is removed from the basements and how soon the lifts start working,” she said.

Meanwhile, beleaguered OC chairman Suresh Kalmadi joined the attack on the developers of the Games Village, and said: “Cleaning is not my job, it should have come clean to us when it was handed over."

Narcotics Control Bureau seeks help to choke drug flow during CWG

To prevent the flow of narcotics in Delhi  during the Commonwealth Games when a large numbers of foreigners are expected, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has decided to seek the help of agencies like the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and Customs. The NCB's Delhi unit and headquarters at a recent meeting with the heads of other agencies, mooted steps to prevent peddlers from selling narcotics like heroin and cocaine to foreign tourists.

Customs and DRI sleuths were asked to help boost the monitoring mechanism against the drug flow at airports and ports. Peddlers from Afghanistan, a major heroin producer in India's neighbourhood, who had been using Delhi as a major transit point for smuggling heroin could divert drugs to the local market during the Games, NCB officials said. A good portion of the heroin meant for Sri Lanka is likely to be diverted to the local market, sources said.

"At the meeting we discussed plans to prevent the flow of drugs to Delhi. We have sought the help of other agencies and surveillance against drug trafficking will be increased," NCB south zone director Davidson Devasirvatham told The Times Of India.

The CWG itself has been marred by controversies but is expected to attract a lot of foreign tourists to Delhi, where the availability of heroin at rates lesser that international prices could be a major attraction, sources said.

The NCB has started profiling major international peddlers and monitoring their movements. The local police have been told to keep tabs on local peddlers.

India has been a major transit point for narcotics like heroin, which comes from South-east Asi, and cocaine, which comes from South America. These are then smuggled out, mostly to Europe. Hashish, produced in Himachal Pradesh and Nepal, cannabis from Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar are aslo smuggled out. Besides, several psychotropic substances and prescription drugs are taken out of the country.

Commonwealth Games: Paddlers spearhead Singapore's hopes

Singapore might be a world leader in many things but sport isn't one of them, although they do boast top-class table tennis players who go into the Commonwealth Games as firm favourites.

The city-state is expected to send 71 athletes who will compete in nine of the 17 sports being contested.

Their aim is to better the five gold, six silver and seven bronze medals they won in Melbourne four years ago.

Singaporean hopes lie heavily with their paddlers, who supplied four of their gold medals in Melbourne - women's team, mixed doubles, women's singles and women's doubles.

In fact, 11 of their total Games medal haul of 18 came in table tennis, and more of the same is expected in Delhi.

The tone was set at the world team championships in Moscow in June when Singapore's women upset heavily-fancied China to take the title, and the likes of Feng Tianwei, Wang Yuegu, and Sun Beibei will be difficult to beat in Delhi.

Singapore's men paddlers are not in the same league, but should still challenge for podium places with the experienced Yang Chuan Ning recently-appointed as their new coach

A Chinese native, Yang has groomed numerous Olympic and world champions and the Singapore Table Tennis Association is overjoyed that he is onboard.

"We are ecstatic to have attracted one of the top coaches to Singapore Table Tennis Association," said president Er Lee Bee Wah.

"Yang Chuan Ning brings a wealth of experience with him in developing table tennis players and I believe he will take our men paddlers to the next level."

Singapore also has a strong chance of medalling in the pool through Tao Li, who impressed when she finished fifth in the 50m butterfly at the Beijing Olympics.

"I have pressure, but I hope it can be a motivation for me as well," the 20-year-old recently told local media.

"I'm always confident in myself, because being an athlete you must be confident in yourself so you can compete in the higher levels, and not be mentally down."

Breaststroke swimmer Parker Lam is seen as Singapore's best hope on the men's side.

Singapore is also traditionally strong in shooting and they have opportunities in badminton with most of the sport's world powers, such as China, South Korea, Indonesia, not eligible for these Games.

The biggest threat for Singaporean shuttlers should come from Malaysia, England and India.

Yao Lei and Shinta Mulia Sari, likely to be the top seeds in the women's doubles, are a decent gold medal chance, while seasoned campaigners Hendri Kurniawan Saputra and Hendra Wijaya should challenge in the men's doubles.

Elsewhere, the country is sending a female weightlifter to a major Games for the first time. Helena Wong will fly the flag, but is not expected to medal.

Singapore has participated in 13 Commonwealth Games, beginning in 1958 in Cardiff, Wales.

Some athletes already in Delhi for the games

More than 1,000 athletes have now arrived for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

After many weeks of bad publicity due to filthy rooms, dirty toilets, generally unhygienic conditions and unfinished work, a number of officials have now said they are more comfortable with progress being made for the games to be held between October 3-14th.

The much maligned athletes village has been cleaned by a huge staff of workers and Indian officials are hoping the recent collapse of a pedestrian bridge and a shooting attack on a tourist bus will soon be forgotten.

Security has been ramped up to ensure nations do not pull out of the Games.

Several athletes have withdrawn due to health and safety concerns.

The ABC in Australia has reported that athletes officials have been pleased with the progress.

The UK team, which was highly critical at the beginning of last week, has now said it is content with the pace of progress.

A complaint was made by the South African team that a snake was found in a room at the games village.

Prince Charles will open the Games on Sunday evening in place of Queen Elizabeth, 84, who would normally open the Games but has insisted her schedule this year will not permit.

After 100 challans, Delhi drivers fear the blue lane

Even as commuters faced a harrowing time on Monday, inching through jammed city roads with lanes earmarked for Games traffic, the traffic police challaned some 100 people for straying into the dedicated lanes. The dedicated lanes on roads from the Games Village to Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Major Dhyanchand Stadium and Indira Gandhi Stadium were restricted. The 1,600 blueline buses keeping off these stretches only added to the commuters’ woes.

“A 100 people were challaned today. And as expected, there was congestion on the stretches which were restricted. But everything went on smoothly, including facilitation of Games buses to the practice venues,” said Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Satyendra Garg.

In view of restrictions on normal vehicular traffic movement, the ridership of Delhi Metro saw a sharp rise of 65,000 commuters on Monday, as compared to last Monday. As many as 12.62 lakh commuters had taken the Metro till 8 pm. The Traffic police has advised people working in and around the CGO Complex in Lodhi Colony near Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium , the main venue of Commonwealth Games, to use car pools, Metro or public transport from Tuesday when movement of vehicles will be prohibited near the main venue. This arrangement will affect traffic bound for CGO Complex, Electronic Niketan, Soochna Bhawan, Scope Building, MTNL, Pragati Vihar and Lodhi Colony Type-V residential complex.

“No buses or paramilitary forces heavy vehicles will be allowed to move on the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium road. They are instructed to move on Lala Lajpat Rai Marg and Lodhi Road and drop passengers at the petrol pump and near the bus stand on Lodhi Road, NBCC respectively,” Garg said. The vehicles having parking labels issued by the Security Wing of the offices concerned will be allowed to enter the office complexes and be parked inside.

In another order, the Delhi Police also notified that parking or halting of any type of vehicle, except Games-related traffic and vehicles of Delhi Police and the emergency services, is prohibited on any part of the roads where dedicated Games Lanes have been notified till October 16. Violators shall be punishable under Section 188 of the IPC.

Workers rush to get New Delhi ready for Games

Indian workers are rushing to complete buildings and sports grounds for the Commonwealth Games as hundreds of athletes arrive in New Delhi.

India has come under harsh criticism for the state of the athletes' village including complaints about filthy conditions, infrastructure problems and even a snake found in the room of a South African competitor over the weekend.

Another snake, a large cobra, was also reportedly found at the tennis stadium. However, most team officials said they were satisfied with the state of progress.

"The rooms that we've moved athletes in today are clean and ready. We're comfortable that everybody is safe," said Caroline Searle, spokeswoman for the England team.

Chairman of Commonwealth Games Scotland, Michael Cavanagh, said that "the morale is very high. They're absolutely delighted with the village. They've only just gone in for the accommodation and that's pretty good too."

The Chairman of the Commonwealth Games 2010 Organising Committee, Suresh Kalmadi, said on Monday that all problems with the athletes' village had now been fixed and that no further problems were expected: "They got excellent facilities. I don't think there has been a Games Village like that anywhere else and they are all quite happy about it."

But Pakistan's High Commissioner to India, Shahid Malik, says work still needs to be done on accommodation for his country's team. "There are many things, I can't pin-point. But authorities know about it and they have assured me that before the time our contingent arrives here, they will be able to put it in order," he said.

When Sports Attacks; The 2010 Commonwealth Games

It started as the British Empire Games in 1930. It still begins with an official message from the Queen that travels by hand from Buckingham Palace. It still culminates with a tribute to the British Military that would put the old Red Square parades to shame. It is the Commonwealth Games (CWG) and its goal from the outset has been to use sports to create goodwill between the United Kingdom and the various outposts of ye olde empire.

As the Reverend Astley Cooper first proposed in 1891, a "Pan-Britannic-Pan-Anglican Contest and Festival every four years [could act as] a means of increasing the goodwill and good understanding of the British Empire." Today this sporting festival involves 71 countries and a series of games that spring from the UK like lawn bowling, rugby seven, and netball.

I don't know if the CWG has created goodwill, but as the 2010 Games are set to start in Delhi, we are getting a very good understanding of empire, at least the 21st century variant. The games are teetering on an unprecedented implosion and the problem is not just that India, a country where 46% of the children are underweight, is spending $2.5 billion on athletic facilities alone. The problem is not just that India, a country where 42% of the people live under the World Bank poverty line of $1.25 a day, promised $100,000 to every country's delegation to secure the games (what is called in less refined circles "a bribe.") And the problem is not just that this state of affairs raises the question about whether India, with all it's nouveau economic might, should be playing footstool for the inert Queen's "Empire Games."

The games might not go on because the CWG facilities built at great economic and social cost have been flagged as a serious health hazard. In preparing the various arenas, dozens of workers have been grievously injured in accidents due to faulty materials and equipment. This week alone a ceiling collapsed at the weightlifting venue and a bridge crumbled outside the main staging ground, Nehru Stadium, injuring 27.

Commonwealth Games President, Michael Fennell, expressed in writing his "great concern" over the current situation. "Many nations that have already sent their advanced parties to set up within the village have made it abundantly clear that, as of the afternoon of Sept. 20, the Commonwealth Games village is seriously compromised," he said.

Mike Hooper, the CWG chief executive, sniffed, "the village is filthy... one can't occupy the rooms. There is building dust and rubble and the toilets are not working. Reports of excrement being found are true....[It's not fit] for human habitation."

The chairperson of the Commonwealth Games Council for Wales, Anne Ellis, raised the unprecedented prospect of canceling it altogether. [We will see how London handles the 2012 Olympics for example, and recoil anew without the comfort of xenophobia.] There is more than a little dollop of paternalistic racism in CWG officials' assessments of Delhi.

The critiques that matter, though, come from inside of India where the Commonweath Games are called the "Corporate Wealth Games." Currently, India is suffering through one of the worst ever outbreaks of Dengue Fever, which spreads through mosquitoes, exacerbated from a particularly harsh monsoon season. Pranav Jani, an American professor living in Delhi, wrote, "many are saying [the outbreak comes is due] to the massive digging and construction from the upcoming CWG." You will hear CWG officials complain about Dengue. You will hear athletes raise it as a health concern and decline to compete. But you won't hear their complicity.

Regardless, if the CWG bureaucrats want to vacate responsibility for the state of affairs every day, the Indian press discusses the problems in grand detail. This is the first time India has ever aimed to host an event of this magnitude. The country's leaders are aiming to accomplish what China did with the 2008 Olympics, South Africa with the 2010 World Cup, and what Brazil hopes to do with the 2016 Olympics -- namely, demonstrate that they are willing to and pull out all the stops to raise their international prestige at put on a good show.

There is a reason why the so called BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) are the 21st century hosts for these elaborate sporting spectacles. One reason is that they are willing to do whatever it takes to make the games happen. That means repression. That means massive debt-public works projects. In China, we saw the price of this, with two million people displaced from Beijing. In South Africa, a million-strong public sector strikes mark the hangover after the party. In Brazil, a police helicopter was shot down over the favelas, in October 2009, just south west of an Olympic Zone. In Athens, before the 2004 games, anywhere between 40 and 150 construction workers died as the International Olympic Committee deadlines hovered.

In India, we see similar stories, As Ravi Chaudhary reported, "On the 7th of July 2010, during work hours, a government funded demolition team took bulldozers to the Yamuna Khada school (funded by donations) in order for it to be ruthlessly demolished. Those who attended and worked at the school were given three hours to vacate the property with no alternative. Police were present along with the construction teams and were seen destroying whatever could be demolished by hand in order to put fear into local residents. Many were removed with physical force."

And yet, the world has looked away, because the trains have always run on time; to put it another way, the games went off without a hitch and the body count was ignored. Just as in 1968 in Mexico City, when hundreds of students and workers were killed before the games and the world looked away, it is seen by organizers as a plus -- not a minus -- that such extreme prejudice can be introduced with impunity. In India, we are seeing how this process of rapid-fire development on the quick has crossed the line that divides the development from the spectacle. Now not only are dissidents and workers endangered, the athletes themselves are imperiled as well. For the first time since World War II, the show may not go on. But this time, the war is the show and the show is the war.

CWG OC paid Hooper's Rs 2cr tax tab

Michael Hooper, CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation who has been in Delhi for the past several years, has been living it up royally even as the Games preparations were floundering.
According to documents available with TOI, the Organising Committee, in a bizarre decision on November 1, 2007, decided to take care of all the income tax liabilities of Hooper during his stay in India. Ordinary citizens may pay their own income tax but not Hooper, OC secretary general Lalit Bhanot decided without government consent or any formal collective deliberation.

So for 2007-08 and 2008-09 financial years, Indian tax payers paid almost Rs 2 crore on behalf of Hooper as tax liabilities to the government. Hooper was being paid salary in London by the Commonwealth Games Federation.

Not just that. For several months after he landed in India, Hooper stayed at a sprawling farmhouse which had a monthly rental of over Rs 12 lakh.

But since December 1, 2008, Hooper shifted to a cheaper accommodation. A farmhouse belonging to one Mukesh Khanna was hired at Rs 4.50 lakh a month.

At his house, Hooper has six employees with a total monthly salary of Rs 37,375, according to OC documents.

Bindra: It’s going to be the best Games ever

India’s only Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra on Monday flew down from Pune to join the Indian shooting squad for the Commonwealth Games, but did not check into the Games Village despite completing all formalities.

The icon of Indian shooting, however, made it clear that he was likely to stay at the Village from Tuesday. “I came to the Village to complete the formalities. Since I did not bring my guns, I am not staying at the Village tonight. I will straightaway join the practice at the Karni Singh range tomorrow (Tuesday),” said Bindra.

While sources in the shooting squad said that Bindra was made to wait for a long time by the Village authorities, the ace shooter said he was happy with the arrangements. “I did not face any problem while completing the formalities,” said Bindra.

The Chandigarh boy, who took Indian shooting to a new height in Beijing, will however, be without a personal coach for the Commonwealth Games. While German coach Gaby Buhlmann, who guided Bindra to Olympic gold, is not there, the other coach, Heinz Josef Reinkemeier too has not accompanied the shooter to India.

“Reinkemeier was supposed to come, but he couldn’t because of other commitments,” said Bindra, adding that he is confident of doing well in the Commonwealth Games.

“I am under no pressure. It is you people who remind me of all these things,” said Bindra. “I am mentally prepared to do well in front of my home crowd. It is going to be one of the best Games ever,” said the CWG brand ambassador.

C'Wealth Games: Twitter, Facebook abuzz with positive vibes

After a week of nailing down Suresh Kalmadi through abusive names, jokes and ‘We are like this only’ comments directed at politicians connected to the Commonwealth Games, it appears that Twitter and Facebook are now witnessing a groundswell of patriotic fervour in support of the Games.

Stunning photographs of the venue shot by participating teams — till now overshadowed by the negative news surrounding the event — are now coming to the forefront through Facebook and blogs, helping people shape a positive image of the Games in people’s minds.

The Commonwealth Games Council for Wales, has been tweeting enthusiastically about the event, in the process gaining the approval of fans in India and winning new ones as well.

Indian visitors on the Facebook fan page of Canada’s field hockey team have left comments expressing delight at the CWG venue photos and asking athletes not to lose hope.

“We Indians assure you of a once in a lifetime kind of hospitality. You will take back sweet memories from India,” commented Bharat Malhotra. Another visitor, Rituraj Bhuyan said, “Canada has shown the true sportsman spirit.”

On Sunday, a new group was formed on Facebook titled, ‘Let’s All Support CWG’, which described itself thus: “We need to stand up and realise our responsibilities as true Indians and contribute in whichever way, small or big, towards hosting a successful CWG-New Delhi 2010. We represent a different breed of Indians, we stand for our nation and not against.”

The positive public sentiment was most easily visible on Twitter. While negative tweets about CWG far outweighed than positive ones, there is no denying that the fuss about a failed attempt at hosting the Games, is now wearing off.

Subhasish Das (@Bhuto) tweeted, “(Not) Being able to take a CWG joke is the new patriotism test.”

Advertising professional @sonaljhuj agreed: “I wish people would just shut up with the CWG jokes. Delhi looks great. Thinks look okay. Just lets get on with the sports.”

Brand consultant Harish Bijoor tweeted, “If we floss it over and say ‘We are like this only’, as we normally do, then the CWG fiasco has taught us nothing at all. At the end of it, the CWG have two parts to it. The hardware (infrastructure) and the software (sport). If the software part of it falls into place and if we see sporting action that is satisfying, we would have salvaged something.”

Commonwealth Games: Now is the time

It will be a different experience altogether for Indian gymnasts when they perform in front of the home crowd and perhaps the biggest ever challenge.

However, at the same time, it will be an opportunity of a lifetime because of two reasons — their current form and absence of top gymnasts from the event.

“This time, we are better prepared and have better prospects. So, we would try to give our best to bring medals for the country,” says 23-year-old Rohit Jaiswal, who will be competing in the floor, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel and horizontal bars events.

The Indian challenge will be spearheaded by Ashish Kumar and Deepa Karmakar in the men’s and women’s categories respectively. Both Ashish and Deepa are placed within the top-35 in the world ranking. While Deepa is ranked 17th in the vault category, Ashish is ranked 31st in the floor event.

“This is probably the best Indian side we have. We are hoping for a good show by our gymnasts, as a few of them are placed well in the world ranking. This will work to their advantage as most of the top-ranked gymnasts do not represent Commonwealth countries,” says national coach Ashok Mishra.

Deepa, who had performed well in recent competitions, says she will be aiming for three medals in individual categories. “It will be great to perform in front of the home crowd. Moreover, I am high on confidence right now as I have improved my world ranking (from 30th to 17th) recently. This has boosted my confidence and I am eyeing three medals in the individual categories, which includes a gold in my pet event, vault,” says Deepa.

However, Mishra says that Indian gymnasts do not have the experience of competing against athletes from Commonwealth countries.

“We are working as a team and focussing on building our collective strength. The idea is that if they give their best as a team, their individual performance will automatically improve,” explains chief coach Vladimir Chertkov.

India will face a tough fight from countries like Australia, Canada and England.

As long as there is a good track and roof above, say England athletes

A lot of negative stuff has been written about the Delhi Commonwealth Games. But are the athletes themselves concerned and therefore going to India with a great deal of apprehension?

Not quite. The England athletics squad training in Doha, are in fact, quite enthusiastic. “For me, as long as there is a good track, a roof above and a bed, I’m happy and I’m good to go,” said Athens Olympics 4x100m sprint gold medalist Mark Lewis Francis after conducting a clinic for kids at the Aspire Academy.

“The way we have to look at it is, we are athletes training hard all through the season for this. I’m excited; I have never been to that part of the world before. I’ve heard good things about Delhi and I’m confident that rest of the things will definitely fall into place,” added Francis, who has gone without a medal at the Commonwealth Games in two previous attempts.

“I’ve done two Commonwealth Games before, Manchester and Melbourne. In Manchester, I made the finals, pulled the hamstring. In Melbourne, we got disqualified in the 100 metres and in the relay we dropped the baton. Hopefully, this time I would be third time lucky. I’m in a good shape. I won a silver medal in the European Championship in Barcelona this year,” said Francis, who said he is also not afraid to venture out on the streets of Delhi to explore its rich history.

“I’ve never been to India but this is my second visit to Doha. I’ll leave from here on Oct 3 and then I have two days to get my mind right before I compete on the 6th. Then I have one week off before my next event.

Hopefully, once that job at hand is done, I’ll definitely venture out. I’m not the guy, who will sit in the room and look at the four walls,” says Francis adding that the controversial withdrawal of some of his teammates had nothing to do with the security concerns.

“The athletes who have withdrawn are injured. There is no other reason. What I see is for all the remaining athletes, this Games serves as a great opportunity to go out and perform. And for me, I’ve not won a medal at the Commonwealth Games and that’s what matters the most than anything else. I’ve still got speed in my legs and I’m sure I can go and produce in Delhi,” says Francis, who has clocked 10.12 sec in Newcastle at the Great North Run earlier this year.

Francis’ coach and Olympic gold medalist Linford Christie, too, was confident about the Games. “The best thing to do is not to read newspapers at all when you are preparing for such major events. Your job is to go and compete.
You have this sort of a problem before every major tournament and it is nothing new for us. England medal hope in the women’s sprint Laura Turner is keen to erase the memories of a fourth place finish at the Melbourne Games.

“I’m not at all paying attention to what is going around. They still have a week to get everything absolutely so I’m not bothered about things. Beijing also had security concerns and stuff. But everything went fine. I would definitely like to look around Delhi,” said Turner.

England players pleasantly surprised by ‘perfect conditions’

The England women’s hockey squad arrived here on Monday afternoon and were pleasantly surprised by the facilities for the athletes at the Commonwealth Games Village. The squad, part of the second batch of English athletes to arrive, checked in around 3 pm and were impressed by what they saw. “We were kind of concerned back home and did not know exactly what to expect. But it’s just perfect out here,” said Beth Storry, the team’s goalkeeper.

News about security concerns and an unfinished Games Village had painted a gloomy picture for these England players. “Our parents were concerned; obviously, with all the news that we were getting back home, it was tough to decide to come. But I have just finished sending an e-mail back home, telling them to relax and not to get worried. Everything is being taken care of. We have absolutely nothing to get worked up about,” Storry said at the Games Village.

She added that the residential blocks were much better than what they expected. “I guess the media back home just went into an overdrive, hyped up things a bit too much. From what we have seen so far - and it isn’t much - things are great, the apartments are spacious and really nice and clean, the dining hall is fantastic; I have no problems whatsoever,” she said.

Team mate and England striker Alex Danson agreed, saying what they have seen was nothing like what they had heard back home. “There was too much of negativity back home in the media and otherwise. But this place is absolutely great,” she said. Danson, who wishes to be a teacher sometime in future and is interested in learning about Sikhism, said she was always interested in coming to India and thought this would have been the perfect opportunity.

“But then all the negative stuff started coming in and there were doubts. But I am glad I didn’t decide to pull out or I would have missed it all,” she said.

Tough to predict

Even though England have just returned with a bronze medal from the World Cup, Storry said it was tough to predict a winner here. “On paper, we can perhaps say that a couple of strong teams are not coming, so the competition may be easy. But it all depends on what happens on that particular day. We can’t forget that India finished ninth at the World Cup but they have a gold and a silver at Commonwealth Games,” she said.

Danson, one of the most experienced English players with over a 100 caps, added that, besides the stadiums and the Village, they hoped to see and experience the local. “This is my first visit to India for almost everyone in our squad. We have a welcome ceremony later in the evening and I hope to get my first look at the Indian culture then,” she said.

Safety forces a ‘dress code’

England Commonwealth Games athletes and officials have been banned from wearing Team England clothes outside of Games venues in New Delhi, as intelligence officials warn of increased kidnapping risks to Britons, Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians in the Indian city.

But England chef de mission Craig Hunter said his team’s response to the security alerts had been tempered by not wanting to embarrass the Games hosts, particularly as the next Commonwealth Games are in Glasgow and the next Olympic Games are in London.

He told, “We are committed to participating and we are looking at security knowing we have Glasgow in 2014 and London in 2012 and any actions that are taken are taken on the understanding there are robust security measures in place to guarantee the safety of the athletes competing.

x“It is important everyone is in a good place (mentally) and feels safe and secure. At the moment I believe the security of the athletes is robust and at an appropriate level.”

The 565-strong team has been supplied with Adidas-branded red and white clothing, but the athletes have been told they can wear the official team kit only when they are inside the Games Village, or on secure Games transport to venues.

England officials said the athletes would be allowed to travel outside of the Games venues but only in small groups, despite recent intelligence sources suggesting Britons could be at an escalated risk of kidnap by terrorists sympathetic to Al-Qaeda.

Other teams are reviewing their rules in allowing athletes to attend a daily tour to the Taj Mahal. Australian team members are banned from shopping at local markets which are considered a soft target for terrorists.

Reports from Australia say that Australian authorities have received intelligence about a plan by terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda to take foreign hostages, including Britons, as reprisal for the country’s activities in Afghanistan.

“It is okay to wear the Games kit when they are in Games accredited vehicles going to venues, training and competition but it is the same situation as in Beijing at the Olympics, the athletes venturing outside of the secure areas are not to wear the team kit,” England press official Caroline Searle said.

The Foreign Office says there is a high risk of terrorism in New Delhi. Embassy officials have been providing a daily security briefing to the England team.

“We have highlighted the particular risk that terrorists will attempt attacks in the run-up to and during the Delhi Commonwealth Games,” a Foreign Office spokesman said.

The security at the Games Village is extremely tight with armed army officials conducting indepth searches on the four-ringed perimeter surrounding the athletes’ accommodation.

On Monday morning, it to-ok three journalists more than 15 minutes to be searched and their computers and personal equipment examined before undergoing the same check 200m closer to the Village.

CWG tennis venue world class: ITF delegate

International Tennis Federation (ITF) delegate Tom Boyle Monday described as "world class" the Commonwealth Games venue R.K. Khanna Tennis Stadium.

Boyle said there had been rapid improvement in every area since the test event took place in May.

"The stadium has some excellent facilities for players, especially the locker rooms and the lounge. It has improved a lot since it held the test event in May when some work was still to be done. The venue
is ready and it definitely looks a truly international venue," Boyle told IANS.

"Without doubt, it is a world class stadium. We are very pleased that the work is finished as promised."

The refurbished stadium has laid new rebound ace courts which are known to increase the risk of injury and drew criticism a few months ago.

"At this stage, we won't be able to comment on that. Once the players come and start practising, we will be able to assess it better. But the courts are approved by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and it is in its list of approved courts, so there should be no problem," he said.

Negative CWG publicity has hurt tourism: Selja

The negative publicity about the Commonwealth Games has affected the prospects of tourism, Tourism Minister Kumari Selja said Monday.

"We are fully prepared to host the Games and our people are monitoring the Games venues round-the-clock to address any inconvenience," she said on World Tourism Day after signing a pledge at Hotel Ashok here.

The "negative publicity" of the Games Village has hurt tourism prospects, Selja said. Travel and tour operators feared that this would hit tourist inflow.

The minister urged the media to stop negative publicity and asked the people not to have any misgivings about the Oct 3-14 Games.

We should present a positive face to the tourists together and forget the negative publicity," she pleaded.

The Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), a premier travel and tourism
grouping, has warned that only 10,000 tourists would visit India during the Games.

"We have lost a lot of potential business owing to delays by the authorities in completing the venues and meeting other deadlines. We are very disappointed," Rajji Rai, president of TAAI, told IANS

Until June this year, 2.63 million foreigners had visited the country. In 2008, 5.28 million tourists came to India, compared to 5.11 million in 2009.

Selja said her ministry has ordered an inquiry into complaints about furniture imported from China at the Games venues. The ITDC was in charge of the furnishings at the venues.

We have owned responsibility for the flaws, she said. The irregularities have been sorted out."

The mood at The Hotel Ashok, where the minister addressed the media, was festive.

The premises overflowed with visitors, Commonwealth delegates, contingents from the member countries, piles of baggage and more than 100 young Games volunteers -- mostly students attired in Commonwealth T-shirts and caps -- manning the flow of visitors.

Traffic around Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium restricted

Police Monday announced traffic restrictions around the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games as well as the athletics events.

The movement of vehicles will be restricted in the area from Sep 28 to Oct 14, affecting those travelling to central government offices in the CGO Complex, Electronic Niketan, Soochna Bhawan, Scope Building, the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd as well as Pragati Vihar and Lodhi Colony.

‘No vehicle, including those of paramilitary forces, will be allowed on the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium road’ unless they have parking labels issued by the security wing, Joint Commissioner Satyendra Garg said.

No vehicle can be parked on the stadium road.

Sand animation at CWG opening

Sand animation accompanied by a theme song on Mahatma Gandhi will enthrall audience at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games Oct 3.

Noted sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik will create this unique art along with three of his students in synchronization with the theme song by music maestro A.R. Rahman.

‘I have the invitation from the organizing committee, and we are already practicing it’ Pattnaik, currently in the US, told IANS.

‘We are brining at least 10 kilograms of sand from the golden sea beach of Puri to create the art work,’ he said.

Tanzanian team arrives Delhi Commonwealth Games

A contingent from Tanzania arrived for the Commonwealth Games 2010 here on Monday.
Over 1,100 foreign athletes, officials and technical staff from different nations have reached New Delhi for the event.
The African team arrived in the early hours of Monday amid heavy security presence at the airport and police escort vans.

The Indian Government is racing against time to ensure preparations are complete before the opening of the event.

Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell said on Saturday that despite certain negative trends, there would be full participation by all countries in the Games.

So far all national delegations appear to be attending the Games after pledges from the Indian government that the event would be ready on time.

The Games are due to commence on October 3 and end on the 14th.

India is expecting about two million tourists in New Delhi for the Games, as well as about 10,000 athletes from 71 teams representing 54 Commonwealth member states.

India in race to the finish for C'wealth Games

Indian workers raced to finish preparations Monday for the Commonwealth Games as hundreds of athletes and team officials arrived in New Delhi. The city's chief minister said she was confident they would complete the job ahead of the event's opening Sunday.

Members of the English team, who had been forced to check themselves into a hotel because preparations were so far behind schedule, moved into the games village Monday.

"The facilities are fine, and right now they are enjoying their lunch," said Caroline Searle, spokeswoman for the England team.

India has come under harsh criticism for the state of the athletes' village — including complaints about filthy conditions — infrastructure problems and even a snake found in the room of a South African competitor over the weekend. Another snake, a 4-foot (1-meter) -long cobra, was reportedly found at the tennis stadium.

The games village was supposed to be ready last week, but many teams have delayed moving in because cleaning and repair work have not been finished.

New Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who took charge of the work last week, has been seen traveling around the village in a golf cart in recent days to personally inspect the work.

"We inherited a very difficult situation, but it's improving almost by the hour," she said Monday. "We are racing against time, no doubt about it, but we will perform."

Some of the buildings had leaks in them, there was still water in some basements and some elevators were not yet working, she said.

Team officials and athletes said conditions in the village had improved dramatically.

"A lot of work has taken place over the last few days. I am relatively satisfied," said Mike Summers, head of the Falkland Islands delegation. His 15-member team will arrive in the city and move in to the village on Tuesday, he said.

Juliet Acon, a Ugandan official, said her nation's delegation had been forced to live in hotels for a few days until their rooms were ready Saturday. "So far, so good," she said.

Kenyan shot putter Agnes Flora Oluoch said her team's rooms were in good condition, but she and her fellow athletes had yet to receive keys, forcing them to leave their doors unlocked.

Alistair Whittingham, an archer from Scotland, said conditions were better than he had expected.

"I have stayed in much, much worse accommodation during tournaments elsewhere in the world," he said.

The multi-sport games, held every four years, bring together nearly 7,000 athletes and officials from 71 countries and territories from across the former British empire. The games were meant to help cement India's reputation as a growing regional power. Instead, its image has been battered by negative publicity about its frantic last-minute efforts to get ready for an event it knew it was hosting seven years ago.

The collapse of a pedestrian bridge leading to the main stadium and the recent shooting of two tourists outside one of New Delhi's top attractions added to organizers' woes.

Montek Singh Ahluwalia, one of India's key economic policymakers, brushed off concerns that the bad publicity could scare off potential investors in India.

"If you are talking about investors, people who are planning to invest significant sums of money in India, (they will do so) based on overall assessment of the economy and the economic policy and so on," he told reporters in Malaysia. "I don't think this will become an opportunity for people ... to reverse their opinion of how the Indian economy is performing."

Nevertheless, the bad publicity has continued, with Australian cyclist Travis Meyer and table tennis player Stephanie Sang announcing Sunday they would pull out of the competition — following a string of other athletes who have decided to stay away, either because of health and security concerns or injuries.

Tuelo Serufho, head of the Botswana contingent, was quoted by Press Trust of India as saying that his team's rooms in the village were "unlivable for our athletes," with filthy bedsheets, bathroom fixtures that did not work and construction debris yet to be cleared away.

Complaints have also came from Indian competitors.

Boxer Akhil Kumar, who won gold for India in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, said he was disappointed with his accommodation. "When I sat down on my bed to take a rest, it collapsed," Kumar was quoted as saying by the Times of India newspaper.

Commonwealth Village 'Ready By Wednesday'

India says the athletes' accommodation for the Commonwealth Games will be ready by Wednesday despite a weekend of further mishaps.

With another 20 teams arriving in Delhi today, at least 150 flats are still not considered fit for habitation.

At the weekend a snake was reported to have been found in one room and a boxer's bed collapsed in another.

Some 20 athletes have pulled out of the Games amid health concerns and security fears.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said the Village, where 8,000 athletes from 71 nations will stay during the event, will be ready by Wednesday.

"We inherited a very difficult situation but it's improving almost by the hour," she said.

"Everybody has been told to work double time and we will do it."

Sky's Ashish Joshi, in Delhi, said the Welsh team were "very happy" with the accommodation and positive noises had been made by other nations.

The English team is moving into the Village today after spending the weekend in a hotel and accepted it was getting "three-star accommodation" rather than five-star.

"Now is a crucial time for Delhi," Joshi said.

"This is when the test will be as athletes from around the world put great strain on the infrastructure. We all hope it's going to hold together."

The Games are due to start on October 3.

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