Thursday, September 30, 2010

Five-star Hotels Assist in Cleaning CWG Village

Bringing heavy duty equipment and expert staff, top five-star hotel chains, including the Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, are helping in the last-minute massive clean-up drive at the Commonwealth Games Village, officials said.

The hotel chains have come in along with their large housekeeping departments to help in cleaning the rooms at the athlete's village for the Games beginning Oct 3. "Heavy duty equipment have been moved in by five-star hotel chains," a diplomatic source said here Tuesday.

"Several flats had 'pan' (betel nut) stains. It was difficult to remove them with normal cleaning detergents," a CWG Organising Committee official said.

With all the teams set to arrive by Friday, officials are keeping their figures crossed and hoping that the village rooms will be ready before Friday. "We hope that with the hotel chains helping out, the rooms will be soon cleaned up," the official added.

The Games Village has faced a lot of criticism over the state of the residential zone - with photos of pan-stained bathrooms, muddy beddings and crumbling flats splashed all over the media.

It led to a massive outcry, after which the CWG Organising Committee along with the Delhi government had to finally scramble to get their act together for the cleaning up process.

The issue became further dire after diplomats of the Commonwealth nations got access to the residential zone over the last weekend.

Commonwealth Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies combined to save everyone the bother

There was immense relief last night when it was confirmed that the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi will be shortened to simply consist of a spectacular and colourful Opening Ceremony followed immediately by an impressive and moving Closing Ceremony.

Organisers decided to pull the plug on the competitive element of the event within hours of the electricity supply finally being connected, citing concerns that firstly the competitors’ accommodation at the Games Village may not stay standing for more than a few more days, and secondly because there’s only so long you can go before a trained monkey security guard cracks and goes for a recuperating athlete eating a banana.

The event, now being dubbed ‘a 15-minute extravaganza celebrating the modern legacy of the old British Empire’, will see pyrotechnics and massive-scale choreographed dance routines, followed by a presentation of the athletes marching around the potholed running track. There will then be a pause for international broadcasters to describe the electric atmosphere in the stadium and patronise local culture, before Prince Charles, representing the Queen as head of the Commonwealth, will declare the Games open, and then shut.

A spokesman for the BBC in Delhi said that the Corporation was not too disappointed at the decision. ‘A lot of our key presenters were already in a lot of trouble at home at the prospect of their sidling off for another fortnight’s jolly when they’ve barely got over their hangovers from partying it up at the World Cup,’ he noted, ‘But don’t worry, BBC standards will be maintained — we’ve already filmed a few Slumdog Millionaire comparison pieces for Children in Need, and if anything big does happen in the next couple of weeks, like a stadium collapsing, there’ll be plenty of coverage we can pick up from YouTube.’

Despite the British public’s outbreak of indifference to the decision Craig Hunter, chef de mission of the England team, said it was a shame that his athletes’ involvement would only amount to a quick trot around the running track. ‘The event’s been unlucky in being plagued with bureaucratic problems, clashes with other important sporting events, and unexpected fever outbreaks, meaning many of the finest competitors the Commonwealth has to offer decided to stay away. But it’s a shame they couldn’t have stuck with it anyway. I mean with no-one else here, I think there was a fair chance we might have actually won something.’

Dehli struggles to escape Beijing shadow

Stunning venues, near-flawless organisation and a table-topping performance: China dazzled the world with a 2008 Olympics that leaves India's troubled Commonwealth Games in the shade.

New Delhi's Commonwealth Games have been tagged the "Shame Games" by local media after a shambolic run-up to Sunday's opening that has reinforced the nation's reputation for inefficient bureaucracy, poor infrastructure, graft and squalor.

India's travails are a far cry from southern China's Guangzhou, where up to 12,000 athletes from 45 nations are expected to attend the Asian Games in November, two years after the Beijing extravaganza.

In glaring contrast to India, Guangzhou is quietly going about finishing preparations for the Asian Games -- the world's biggest sporting event after the Olympics.

Wu Yucheng, an official at the government's Guangdong Sports Bureau, said he was aware of the problems in Delhi but declined to elaborate.

"We have been planning for the Asian Games for seven years. So we started our preparation early. We have invested a lot of money in the Games and the city infrastructure," he said.

"In Guangzhou, you can look around and you will see that a lot of things are happening. Every day you see new changes in the city.... It is not only about the Games, but it is about the city."

Fifty-eight venues have been refurbished for the Asian Games and 12 more have been built from scratch. Finishing touches are being applied a month in advance, while venue personnel are in place, testing equipment and learning their roles.

Taking pride of place is the huge, gleaming Guangzhou Olympic Centre for track and field, swimming and equestrian events.

Other competitions will be held at a brand new Asian Games Town in a semi-rural part of the city, while the opening ceremony will take place at a newly-built amphitheatre in the Pearl River skyscraper district.

Against this, the multi-sport Commonwealth Games teetered on the brink of collapse last week as some nations threatened to pull out amid worries about security, a bridge collapse and the standard of accommodation and venues.

Problems with the Delhi Games also include an outbreak of mosquito-borne dengue fever and doubts about transport, fire and evacuation procedures and medical services.

All this has dashed the hopes of the country of a billion-plus people of showcasing itself as an emerging power and delivering an event to rival Beijing, analysts say.

Concern about the negative impact was expressed by a leading Indian business lobby group.

"It is a sad state of affairs indeed and, psychologically, puts a question mark against India’s capacity to deliver," said Amit Mitra, general secretary of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

But there are signs that things are coming together at the last minute as hundreds of competitors arrived this week to take up residence in the much-criticised athletes' village. As many as 5,000 athletes from 71 nations and territories formerly linked to the British Empire are expected.

It would also be a mistake to characterise Beijing's experience as flawless and it is too early to say whether there will be any last-minute glitches at the Asian Games.

Beijing enjoyed a huge boost to its infrastructure through developments such as new subway lines, but has struggled to find a role for iconic venues such as the Bird's Nest stadium and the Water Cube aquatics centre.

Wu said both Guangzhou and Beijing had taken a comprehensive view of organisational issues and admitted there had been problems in the run-up to the Asian Games.

The deputy secretary general of the Asian Games' organising committee, Gu Shiyang, underlined planning and local support as key factors.

"Good planning is one factor, but the most important factor is the support from the government and the citizens as well as state-owned enterprises and private enterprises, the support and participation from all walks of life.

"The educational considerations are also very important. We have 50,000 volunteers for the Asian Games. Most of these volunteers are from the colleges and universities. And also we have 500,000 city volunteers."

He said in the coming weeks all venue teams would be doing rehearsals and drills to make sure their venues operated smoothly.

Two more Aussies skip Delhi CWG due to injury

Australia have lost two more athletes from their Commonwealth Games  squad, with reigning discus gold medallist Scott Martin among two track and field competitors forced to pull out due to injury.

The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Australian officials as saying that Martin and hurdler Hayley Butler did not arrive with the rest of the athletics squad in Delhi early on Thursday morning after deciding to withdraw from the competition earlier this week.

Martin, 27, was forced to withdraw after suffering an injury to his pectoral muscle, robbing him of a chance to defend his discus title from Melbourne in 2006, when he also won bronze in shot put.

Meanwhile, 26-year-old Butler stayed in Australia to recover from stress fractures in both feet.

She was to compete in the 100m hurdles alongside Australia's Olympic silver medallist Sally Pearson.

The pair followed fellow Australians Dani Samuels, Travis Meyer and Stephanie Sang in becoming late withdrawals, though the latter trio pulled out earlier this week due to concerns over security and health.

Commonwealth Games chief executive Hooper burned in effigy in New Delhi

Protesters took to the streets of the Indian capital Thursday for a second straight day of demonstrations, demanding a boycott of the Commonwealth Games that begin this weekend.

A coalition of more than 20 groups calling itself the "Anti-Commonwealth Games Front" demanded a boycott of the Queen's baton relay and the Games, due to open here Sunday. They were holding placards reading "boycott the poverty games" and "we want schools, not stadiums."

About 100 people demonstrated 500 metres from the organizing committee's office in central Delhi.

On Wednesday, Indian activists, upset with what they claimed were racist remarks by Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive Mike Hooper, burned an effigy of the New Zealander and shouted slogans.

Carrying signs that said "Racist Hooper Go Back," the crowd was upset that Hooper, who has lived as an official observer in Delhi for more than two years, had reportedly made remarks blaming the Indian population for poor preparation that included incomplete venues and unlivable conditions at the athletes' village when some delegations began arriving last week. Hooper has denied making any offensive remarks, and has the backing of Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell.

With more than 100,000 police on duty in New Delhi as security for the Games, the protests were kept under control. And the scale of the security was likely to deter any large-scale repercussions in the capital of an Indian court decision in Lucknow, a 14-hour drive away. The Allahabad High Court ruled Thursday that a disputed holy site in the town of Ayodhya should be split between the Hindu and Muslim communities.

Conflict over the site set off bloody communal riots in the past and India has sent hundreds of thousands of troops into the streets to keep order.

But the protests in new Delhi focused on the Games, with critics saying India is a poor country and cannot afford it. Costs for building infrastructure and venues for the event have blown out from original estimates of U$100 million in 2003 to reportedly more than US$3 billion.

"This is an anti-poor, anti-labourer, anti-public drama of 10 to 15 days that will make people struggle for years," said Jawahar Singh, who heads a group working for the cause of slum dwellers.

"Many people have lost their homes, many have lost their livelihoods. These games are against those very workers who have built the city," he said in Hindi.

According to a World Bank estimate, more than 800 million Indians survive at less than US$2 a day.

Sunil Kumar, a youth leader, said no one was bothered about the fact that labourers were being exploited for the games, including the workers injured last week when a pedestrian bridge being constructed near the main stadium collapsed.

"Two of the 27 labourers injured in the bridge collapse ... are still in coma," Kumar said. "One of those two (had) worked for 21 hours at a stretch before he got injured, according to the log maintained at the site."

While construction workers and cleaning staff attempted to put the finishing touches on venues and the athletes village, New Delhi was hit by its seventh road collapse this week, two of them near Games venues. The resulting large pot holes caused massive traffic jams.

Despite all the problems, dramatic cost overruns and the long delays in building venues, organizing committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi said he had not lost hope of bringing the Olympics to India.

"The biggest legacy (of the Commonwealth Games) is Olympics," said Kalmadi, who heads the Indian Olympic Association. "Cricket is the most popular sport in our country but it is played by just 10 countries. Olympics has all sports. We have to ensure that Olympics come up. This is our opportunity and CWG will help."

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge was due to visit some games sites Friday and will remain in Delhi for Sunday's opening ceremonies when Prince Charles will represent the Queen and officially open the event which runs until Oct. 14.

Meanwhile, Australia has lost two more members of its Games squad, with reigning discus gold medallist Scott Martin among two athletics competitors forced to pull out due to injury.

Women's discus world champion Dani Samuels was among three who withdrew last week citing concerns over security and health.

Steve Hooker, the pole vault Olympic and world champion from Australia, says he can't understand why some of the high-profile athletes that have pulled out.

Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt, the world and Olympic 100- and 200-metre champion, and Asafa Powell will not be in New Delhi.

Other notable absentees include South African runner Caster Semenya and English world heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis.

"It's a personal decision for everyone and I think everyone puts their own value on different competitions, but this is a competition I value very highly," Hooker said. "I personally can't understand a lot of the dropouts because this is something that I've been looking forward to a lot.

Delhi welcomes athletes to fortified capital

As the countdown to the Commonwealth Games moved into its final three days, athletes continued to flood into a heavily guarded Indian capital as the host of problems surrounding the event showed signs of easing.

More than 4,000 athletes have arrived in Delhi to find a city wrapped in a security blanket and a Games needing a last-minute government intervention to rescue the multi-sports gathering and prevent a huge embarrassment for India.

A visit to the venue by International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge on Friday will provide a much-needed boost for organisers reeling from the logistical nightmare of trying to arrange India’s answer to the Beijing Olympics.

Shoddy construction and filthy toilets at the Games Village delayed the arrivals of several teams but the last-ditch efforts to improve the situation appears to be paying off.

“I reached here only last night but accommodation is as was expected and I’m looking forward to enjoying the next couple of weeks here,” Australia’s world champion pole vaulter Steve Hooker told reporters at the Games Village on Thursday.

To ensure the safety of the athletes, the Indian capital has been converted into a fortress with 100,000 security personnel, including commandos, snipers and police, virtually taking over the city.

MiG fighters and armed helicopters would be on standby for the Oct. 3-14 Games and Mi-35 attack helicopters would be airborne during opening and closing ceremonies, according to media reports.

Mobile surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns have also been deployed.

The $6 billion exercise was intended to display India’s growing economic and political clout, rivalling neighbour China, which put on a spectacular 2008 Beijing Olympics.

But an attack on tourists by suspected militants, a dengue fever epidemic, filthy apartments in the athletes’ village, and the collapse of a footbridge injuring 27 workers has forced India on the defensive.

Organisers also had to deal with a number of high-profile withdrawals including triple Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt of Jamaican and Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice.

Much to the organisers’ embarrassment, a snake was found in an athlete’s room while and an Indian boxer’s bed collapsed in the Games Village.

Outside the complex, homeless people who sleep on pavements have disappeared and beggars have been banished from the main streets of New Delhi.

The government has also promised to investigate reports of corruption in the awarding of lucrative contracts for the Games.

Top Indian sports persons check into Village

Beijing Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra and bronze medallist Vijender are among 464 Indian athletes who have checked into the Commonwealth Games Village, chef-de-mission Bhubneshwar Kalita said here Thursday.

Shooter Samresh Jung, the best athlete of the 2006 Melbourne Games, boxer Akhil Kumar, squash star Joshna Chinnappa and ace archers Dola Banerjee and Jayanta Talukdar were among those to check into the Village.

Kalita said the athlete felt the arrangements at the Village are the best and their stay comfortable.

Indian contingent has 640 beds in three towers. Each room is twin sharing and the rooms are airconditioned with attached bathrooms, washing machines and refrigerators.

Kalita said they have extended the arrival date of athletes till Oct 8.

Depending upon the schedules of different disciplines, we have extended the entry date of sportspersons till Oct 8.

There is a huge dining hall where Indian cuisine, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, is served. There is a poly-clinic, with expert medical staff, and no case of any major disease has been reported there, he said.

The Village is spread over an area of 63.5 hectares and has a total of 34 residential towers. It has 1,168 apartments with 4,008 bedrooms.

Kalita hoped India would do far better than they did at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games.

During the last Commonwealth Games, India was fourth in the standing, but this time we want to get to the second spot. In any case, I am certain that we will not go below the third position.

Shera stamps sell like hot cakes in CWG Village

Unlike other post offices in the city, the one at the Commonwealth Games Village is doing brisk business. At the centre of attraction for foreign athletes is the set of Shera postage stamps, selling like hot cakes. The postal department opened a post office in the International Zone of the GamesVillage Sep 16 to provide a vend for speed post, registered post, ordinary mail and other services. It also houses a philately section where people can buy stamps.

India Post released four stamps - Shera, Queen's Baton, Talkatora Stadium and Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium - commemorating the Games. Another stamp will be released Oct 3 on the opening ceremony of the 19th Games.

According to the postal officials, the stamps related to the Games are attracting large number of people.

"We have got an amazing response from athletes and delegates in the Games Village. We have sold stamps worth over Rs.14,000 in last one week. Majority of people are buying the Shera stamp having images of the Games mascot," Veerpal Singh, of India Post, said.    

Singh also said they are very happy with the overwhelming response from the players.

"India will be hosting World Philately Exhibition February and this is a sort of curtain raiser for us. We hope to do more business in the coming days," said Vipin Kumar, another staffer at  the Village post ofice.   

Brittany Teev, a tennis player from Cook Islands -- a net of 15 islands in the heart of South Pacific with a population of a mere 13,200 --  said: "I bought 10 Shera stamps as souvenirs for my friends back home. I have also bought lots of postcards having shera stamps to send message back home as it is the cheapest means of communication. The facilities here are brilliant."

Calling it one of the best stores in the Village, Alan Ritche from Scotland said: "It is awesome. The people in the store are so friendly that it is an experience of a lifetime."    

Some 7,000 participants and officials from 71 countries and territories are expected to attend the Oct 3-14 Commonwealth Games, India's biggest sporting event after the 1982 Asian Games.

Kalmadi dares to dream, thinks India can host Olympics

India's weaknesses in staging multi-discipline sports events stood exposed during the crisis-hit run-up to the Commonwealth Games but Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi has still not lost hope of bringing the Olympics to the country. Kalmadi, who was speaking at the Global Sports Summit "Turf 2010" organised by FICCI, said organising good a Commonwealth Games would help the country organise the Olympics also.

"The biggest legacy (of CWG) is Olympics. Cricket is the most popular sport in our country but it is played by just 10 countries. Olympics has all sports. We have to ensure that Olympics come up. This is our opportunity and CWG will help," Kalmadi said.

India intends to bid for the 2020 Games but the Indian Olympic Association and the Sports Ministry have been at loggerheads on the issue. The Sports Ministry has said it's not aware about India's bid for the Olympic Games and no such effort can go ahead without the government's nod.

The embattled OC chairman also hit out at the critics of the Games and said he was ready for any inquiry post the Games.

"BBC showed the pictures of toilet with (paan) stains. But that shot was one month old. There are a lot of misconceptions. There has been talk of toilet papers of Rs 4000. But there is a box which has 100 papers and each one is of Rs 40.

"I am ready for inquiry. Inquiry must be held but I am looking after only the Games. My budget is Rs 1600 crores and not the 36,000 crores you yell," he said.

Talking about the Opening Ceremony on October 3 at Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, it will be spectacular. "This opening ceremony will be seen by three billion people all across the world. It will be shown in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and the United States has also shown interest. It will be watched by the whole world," he said.

"The baton will be handed to Prince Charles who will read out the Queen's message and then the President (Pratibha Patil) will address the gathering." Kalmadi, who is also the IOA President, said organising the Commonwealth Games has helped the Indian capital improve as a city by leaps and bounds.

"See the legacy. The city has gone ahead by 10 years. There are bridges, Metro train from Airport to Village, lot of bridges. So many things have happened. Games are only for 15 days but this infrastructure will remain. It will be for whole life. "The challenge is to use it post Games. And it's a challenge worldwide. I am also concerned about the medals. We should get maximum medals, we are playing at home," he said.

Around 1250 athletes to check into CWG Games Village today

A strong contingent of around 1250 athletes and officials is arriving in Delhi today to participate in the Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi, thereby taking the total number of participants past 5500.

The contingent from England is the largest to arrive today with the 124-member team comprising of participants from swimming and other disciplines. The Papua New Guinea's contingent is the second largest with 119 athletes, followed by New Zealand with 94 athletes.

The Australian contingent of 87 members arriving today will have participants in hockey, tennis, squash, wrestling and boxing.

Among the other large teams arriving today are those of Canada (79), Mauritius (75), Bangladesh (59), Wales (42) and Malaysia (39).

Apart from these, officials and athletes from Sierra Leone, Kiribati, Singapore, Cayman Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, South Africa, British Virgin Islands, Isle of Man, Canada, St. Vincent and The Grenadines and Lesotho are also arriving today.

The contingent from Antigua and Barbuda will have participants from boxing, swimming, cycling and shooting. The hockey, squash and table tennis teams from Malaysia and the shooting team from Singapore are also arriving today.

The Chefs-de-Mission of Solmon Islands, Sierra Leone, Turks and Caicos Islands and Grenada will arrive along with international media contingent, to be a part of Delhi 2010.

Continuous power supply during CWG: Sheila Dikshit

Delhi  will not face any power cuts during the mega event Commonwealth Games 2010,  as measures have been taken to provide continuous power supply, said Delhi Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit.

Inaugurating a power sub-station at Mundka, Sheila Dikshit said, "Delhi will not face any power cuts. We are committed to providing uninterrupted electricity supply during the Games."

"In order to generate more electricity within the national capital, a joint venture company with NTPC and Haryana government has been formed," stated Dikshit.

The company will generate 1500mw power at its plant at Jhajjar in Haryana.

"Delhi would get 750mw out of the 1,500mw," she said, adding the sub station at Mundka has been set up to bring power to Delhi.

Established by the Delhi Transco Limited at a cost of 150crore, the 400kv sub station has been set up on a sprawling 100 acres plot and will provide power supply to west and north-west Delhi including to Delhi Metro.

"I have also asked the power department to install solar panels. So we ensure that we use clean source of energy," said Dikshit.

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