Sunday, October 3, 2010

Commonwealth Games Open

AS 7,000 dancers cavort with giant puppets beneath a vast balloon, the Commonwealth Games kick off yesterday in an explosion of noise and colour.

But as VIPs including Prince Charles watched the opening ceremony's drama, behind the scenes in Delhi there was yet more slapstick comedy as the chaos and bungling continued.

On the eve of today's first competitions, dozens of scoreboards were not in place and crucial timing equipment had still not been installed - meaning potential world records may not stand.

Almost half the 22,000 volunteer helpers supposed to guarantee the games go smoothly had done a runner - with the smart kit they were given for taking part.

A case of the potentially-deadly dengue fever had been reported inside the athletes' village. And in a cock-up that sums up the shambles, the 10metre diving board had been found to be 10.7 metres high.

In the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium there was no sign of the anarchy as Prince Charles, Camilla and Prince Edward watched the three-hour ceremony.

It began with thousands of performers blowing horns while drummers hammered out a beat.

Then, as fireworks lit up the sky, the world's largest helium balloon lifted 90ft off the ground - dangling eight 20ft-tall dancing puppets in Indian costume.

Some of the 6,000 athletes from the 71 teams competing in the 19th games then paraded around.

The cheerful facade cracked only once - when a segment of the 60,000 crowd booed organising committee chief Suresh Kalmadi as he stood up to speak. The jeers reflected a growing fury over the scale of the blunders. The run up to the games, only the second held in Asia, has been a PR disaster.

First a collapsing bridge, then tales of the filthy athletes' village - followed by deadly snakes, monkeys and dogs on in the venues, a dengue fever outbreak and the spiralling £3.8billion bill.

Many events face delays because transport, scoring systems and refereeing arrangements are in disarray. The diving board debacle is typical. A source said: "The height of the board is creating havoc for the divers. They just can't get their entry into the pool right. Ten metres is ten metres. It should be simple. But it's a farce."

Games organisers are working around the clock to install scoreboards at venues and check the so-far untested timing systems.

It has led to fears British stars such as swimmer Rebecca Adlington, due to compete today, and sprinter Mark Lewis-Francis, may break records only for them not to stand because of faulty equipment.

New Zealand netball chief Lindy Murphy said today's initial game with England is under threat.

She said: "At this stage I don't know how we can start. These people have no concept of how high-performance sport works." Delhi, a city of 13 million people, was yesterday placed in lock-down amidst fears of a terrorist attack.

All shops, cinemas and restaurants were shut, there were road blocks throughout the city - and soldiers patrolled the streets.

There is more trouble on the horizon. More than 700 drivers due to transport athletes and officials refused to work yesterday in protest at long hours and bad food.

But Minister for Delhi Sheila Dikshit knows who is to blame. The media. She said yesterday: "Why don't the media focus on positive things like the new bus depot we have opened in Delhi?"

A royal visit and grand preparations

There are no nerves at the Games Village, at least not yet. Hours before the opening of the XIX Commonwealth Games, the athletes are going through their early morning practice and getting tips from their coaches. The cyclists are sweating it out under the sun, while the swimmers are already in the pool. This is for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth Games that a training area has been set up within the Village premises for athletics, aquatics, weightlifting, para sport and wrestling.

“I am confident, we will get many medals at this Games,” says Indian athlete Joseph Abraham who will be participating in the 400-metre hurdles. The Indian male athletes have other things on their mind too, like the ‘sherwanis’ they will be wearing at opening ceremony later in the evening. “Our sherwanis have come. I don’t know how I will look, it should be good,” chips in Vinod, another athlete.

Others are busy checking mail and getting other work done before it gets busy for the opening ceremony. Many rush in to catch a quick bite for breakfast. The South Indian stall is the busiest, with idli undoubtedly the most popular item.

The cleaning staff and security personnel are meanwhile on an overdrive, with Prince Charles expected to visit the Village anytime. Excitement hits a high note as Prince Charles and wife Camilla Parker Bowles drop in and start interacting with the participants. The Earl of Wessex Prince Edward also accompanied Charles, who is representing Queen Elizabeth II at the Games opening ceremony.

“I am really inspired after getting to talk to him. He asked me about my event, my preparations and about the facilities here. I said the facilities are really fantastic,” says Ramone McKenze of Jamaica. “We told them that we are having a fantastic time here. We are really enjoying it,” adds Jon Rankin of Cayman Islands.

During their two-hour stay, the royal couple also dropped in at the dining area, surprising those present there. Athletes from many countries left their food to interact with him. “He was wishing luck to everyone. He interacted with everyone for long time,” said one of them. Later, Charles also checked the residential arrangements for the athletes.

Workers to dismantle stage still do not have passes

The opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games received applause from all quarters, but the organisers now have the herculean task of dismantling the stage ahead.

With the sporting events at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium starting from Tuesday, the Organising Committee has not even thought of the dismantling process. The result: around 250 workers who are to undertake the task of dismantling have not been issued security clearances by the OC.

According to experts, the sturdy steel stage has to be brought down immediately after the ceremony within 8 hours. Once the stage is out, the Aerostat — the helium-filled balloon that floated over the stage — can be taken down and deflated.

“So far, no arrangements have been done to clear the arena,” an official said. After the stage is dismantled and Aerostat brought down, the carpet cover will be removed. The sand cover then has to be covered with grass. With less than 48 hours left, officials fear another fiasco.

“No passes have been issued yet. Of the 60 trucks that have to load the stuff, only eight have vehicle access passes. Every minute counts now,” the official said.

The Aerostat has to be deflated and kept safely to be re-erected for the closing ceremony.

Half a million Euro mistake
A major goof up by the Delhi Police bore heavy on the opening ceremony on Sunday evening. The Delhi Police — without asking anyone — had turned off generators at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium last week. This resulted in 30 per cent of the sophisticated lights getting damaged. The Organising Committee, which is liable for the damage, has estimated the loss to be around half a million Euros.

“These lights have a sophisticated procedure of closing down,” a source said.

Troubled Commonwealth Games open in fortress Delhi

The troubled Commonwealth Games got underway with a glittering opening ceremony on Sunday in a fortress-like New Delhi after a shambolic run-up that threatened to derail the event.

Britain's Prince Charles, representing his mother Queen Elizabeth II, formally declared the start of the sporting showpiece at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium after a last-minute scramble to get ready went to the wire.

A crowd of 60,000 packed into the steamy arena to soak up a spectacle aimed at celebrating India's long history as well as its emergence as a powerful global player.

It was also a riposte to the months of worries over threats of terror attacks, corruption and construction delays that have dogged the event.

Amid fears militants might attack the quadrennial competition, the ceremony was held in tight security, with nearly 100,000 police and paramilitary forces enforcing a lockdown of the Indian capital.

Bazaars and malls were ordered to shut for the day and major traffic restrictions were in place as security forces lined roads and armed guards were posted behind sandbag positions.

Since 2008, when Pakistan-based Islamist militants killed 166 people in a 60-hour assault in Mumbai, India has been fearful the Games, which feature 71 nations and territories, could be hit.

Western governments have persistently warned of the threat of a militant attack during the event, which runs until October 14.

But Delhi police commissioner Y.S. Dadwal has promised "foolproof security".

Until the opening ceremony, the event had been a public relations disaster.

Many of the sports venues have only been completed in recent weeks, the athletes' village was slammed for being "filthy" and equipment has been installed hastily as the clock ticks down.

Highlighting the last-minute rush, a new metro line linking central Delhi with the main Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was only inaugurated Sunday morning.

Instead of showcasing emerging India, the run-up to the Games have been a national embarrassment, uncovering corruption and inefficiency in its bureaucracy.

Compounding the problems, they were hit by a case of dengue fever on Sunday, with Indian lawn bowls manager Ruptu Gogoi taken to hospital.

But with the event now open, Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell said it was time to focus on the sport.

"The preparations have been filled with many challenges and our hope is that the next 11 days will focus on the competition and the athletes in their quest for victory and glory," he said at the opening.

It is the first time India has hosted the Games and only the second time the event has been held in Asia after Kuala Lumpur in 1998, but a slew of top names have pulled out, dealing another devastating blow to organisers.

Absentees include Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell, tennis aces Andy Murray, Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur, swimmer Stephanie Rice and cyclist Chris Hoy.

But some 4,300 athletes have turned up to compete in 272 events across 17 sports, including aquatics, athletics, badminton, boxing, cycling, gymnastics, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling.

Australia has topped the medals table in the last five Games and is expected to do so again, with chef-de-mission Steve Moneghetti on Sunday expressing confidence that the event would be a success.

"The opening ceremony is here, it is very exciting and there is a tremendous buzz. This is a great moment for Indian sport," he said.

"I'm confident the performances we see will be world class."

And in a boost to India, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said the country could still make a serious bid to host an Olympics, despite the Commonwealth Games problems.

"There is a difference between Olympics and Commonwealth Games. The Olympics is bigger and more complicated," India's Zeenews quoted him as saying.

"But I think India has set a good foundation stone for the Olympics bid and a successful Commonwealth Games can help India mount a serious bid for the Olympics."

Fear of jams keeps public off roads, traffic smooth

Delhi had waited for this day for years and as the date drew closer, heartbeats raced.

For the Delhi Traffic Police, however, the day of the opening ceremony for the XIX Commonwealth Games was not as busy as expected. And they had several factors to thank: It was Sunday, so the rush was low; media had been instructing the public about traffic restrictions, hence streamlining the flow of vehicles; security had been beefed up across the Capital and most shops were closed.

The result: Not even a single traffic snarl was reported on Sunday.

The phones at the traffic helpline desk, however, were ringing off the hook, with anxious commuters requesting information on traffic.

Arvind Bali, who came to South Extension from Gurgaon, said: “I reached within an hour, which is quite unusual.”

In keeping with the government’s appeal to use public transport, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation and the Delhi Transport Corporation had respectively increased the frequency of trains and opened 31 focal points from where buses to reach venues were made available.

The Metro trains and buses were, however, packed to capacity.

“I usually take the public transport to avoid jams. I wasn’t too sure if the roads would be clear today, so I chose to travel by the Metro” said Akanksha Singh, an MNC employee.

Dedicated bus services will be provided by the DTC for the next fortnight. The five hubs identified by the DTC that will connect with all venues include, Shivaji Stadium Terminal, Anand Vihar ISBT, Dhaula Kuan, Nehru Place and Kashmere Gate ISBT.

The Metro will also run at an average frequency of two minutes, thereby reducing the burden on road traffic.

Special Commissioner of Police(Traffic) Ajay Chaddha said: “As far as possible, it is advisable for people to make use of public transport to prevent inconvenience for themselves”.

To keep the public updated on traffic restrictions, the Delhi Traffic Police will constantly issue ads through print, broadcast and radio and pamphlets.

Amazing to be New Zealand team's flag bearer for Delhi CWG: Van Dyk

New Zealand netball player Irene Van Dyk has said that being unveiled as the team's flag bearer for the Delhi Commonwealth Games has come as a huge shock to her.

"It is amazing, there's not a lot of people that have this opportunity, I think my heart skipped a few beats," quoted Van Dyk, as saying.You look around and see the most incredible athletes, the best of New Zealand are here," she added.

In naming the 38-year-old, who won gold at 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games and silver in 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, New Zealand matched Australia, who selected netball captain Sharelle McMahon to bear their flag.

Van Dyk earned 72 caps for South Africa before switching allegiance to New Zealand.

She has played 109 Tests for the Silver Ferns and is set to overtake Lesley Rumball as the highest-capped player in the second Test at the Games.

Meanwhile, New Zealand chef de mission Dave Currie said that Van Dyk was the ideal selection.

"She was genuinely overwhelmed and gave the most amazing response of 'seriously?' It was a real honour offering it to her," Currie said.

Currie also said several other athletes would have been considered, but could not do it for logistical or other reasons.

Around 60,000 spectators are expected to attend the three-hour opening ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday.

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