Biggest games, heaviest security; New Delhi prepares for Commonwealth Games lockdown

By John Pye, AP
Saturday, October 2, 2010

New Delhi goes into lockdown for C’Wealth opener

NEW DELHI — New Delhi will go into a security lockdown Sunday for the opening of the biggest and most trouble-plagued Commonwealth Games.

An estimated 100,000 police and military personnel have been enlisted to keep the athletes, visitors and games venues safe. Foreign governments have issued travel advisories highlighting a risk for terror attacks in India during the games.

The Delhi government used a law enacted in 1954 as authority to enforce the closure of shops and markets on Sunday for the opening ceremony and the closing ceremony on Oct. 14, announcing it to businesses two days ahead.

Prince Charles arrived Saturday and met with India’s President Pratibha Patil. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge was expected later.

The Mail Today newspaper splashed the headline “Delhi To Shut Down On CWG Opening Day” across its front page on Saturday, a national holiday in India to commemorate the birth of spiritual and independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi.

Local organizers proudly declared that the athletes’ village, which attracted international condemnation last week because of hygiene concerns, is nearly full of athletes and officials.

Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell and many of the biggest stars from the 71 countries and territories of the Commonwealth aren’t in India. But Delhi officials said more than 6,700 athletes and officials had confirmed their entries, already topping the 5,766 total in Melbourne four years ago.

“More than 5,800 athletes and officials have already arrived in Delhi. With more arrivals scheduled in the coming days, Delhi 2010 is well on the way to becoming the biggest in history,” organizing committee secretary-general Lalit Bhanot said. “We are now looking forward to the successful and smooth delivery of the games.”

Some countries delayed travel for their teams last week because of the filthy condition of the village in the days before the first athletes arrived. Last week, a pedestrian bridge collapsed near the main venue, injuring 27 workers, and two Taiwanese tourists were wounded when shots were fired near a popular Delhi attraction, heightening security and safety concerns.

Officials of netball have threatened a boycott of competition unless their demands for new uniforms, better accommodation and transport are met, the New Zealand Press Association reported.

Netball competition official Saumya Maurya confirmed there had been some issues with technical officials, but “they will be sorted out” and the competition will start on time.

The Queen’s Baton relay moved through the Indian capital on Saturday as the hours ticked down to the opening.

The Commonwealth Games Federation quelled a potential diplomatic feud over the opening of the games when it revealed this week that both Prince Charles, representing Queen Elizabeth II, and Patil will essentially share the honor.

Bhanot said the problems that overshadowed the recent preparations had been resolved and the games were ready to go. But work continued at venues, where several construction deadlines were missed. Also, there’s been no large-scale, pre-games events to test transport, security, ticket and communications.

Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell said most of the most necessary work is done, but stressed the need to maintain standards in the village for the next two weeks and to finalize preparations elsewhere.

In an interview with games broadcaster BBC, Fennell was critical of the delays and problems that have caused negative global attention.

“People are working hard and want to do well, but sometimes the coordination and intention to follow through is not always good,” Fennell said. “You have to applaud their efforts, but the management and systematic follow through was just not there.”

He rejected the argument that the CGF should have done more to keep local organizers on schedule.

“You can only do so much, you have to rely on them to follow your advice,” Fennell said. “You entrust the organization to an organizing committee and that organizing committee has to get on with the job.”

Fennell said taking the games to India for the first time had been an important and necessary learning experience.

“My big hope is the athletes will enjoy it and leave with good memories” he said.

The CGF general assembly later unanimously passed a resolution, moved by Fennell, commending the efforts of the local organizing committee to get most of the problems under control before the arrival of athletes and “get things ready for the grand celebrations of sport.”

England swimmer Rebecca Adlington, Olympic gold medalist in the 400- and 800-meter freestyle, committed to the games despite a rash of withdrawals in recent weeks.

“I never ever really thought I was going to pull out,” Adlington said. “Even all through (training camp), no one was even worried.”

Swimming is among the sports to start Monday, the first day of official competition. There are 17 sports in this year’s Commonwealth Games, and 272 gold medals to be won - 143 for men, 123 for women and six in mixed or open competitions.

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