Let the Games begin, says India (CWG Curtainraiser)

By Sirshendu Panth, IANS
Saturday, October 2, 2010

NEW DELHI - The tracks have been marked out, the fields are ready and stands in spanking new venues wait for the crowds to stream in. After months of uncertainty and doubts over whether India can pull it off, the 19th Commonwealth Games are finally set for a grand opening here Sunday evening.

A story that started Nov 13, 2003, in Jamaica when India won the bid to host its biggest sporting event and proceeded in fits and start through seven years will see fruition when 65,000 people gather under a balmy October night sky to “let the Games begin” Sunday.

The Games, primarily limited to former British colonies and regarded as the second biggest international multi-sports extravaganza after the Olympics, is being held in Asia only for the second time. The Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur organised the Games in 1998.

From Monday, thousands of athletes from 71 countries and Commonwealth territories will vie for 829 medals at stake in 17 disciplines spread over 11 venues. The successful holding of the Oct 3-14 event is one of the biggest challenges of a nation emerging as an economic power after years of struggle with poverty and underdevelopment.

It is also the third time the South Asian giant is hosting a major multi-discipline event of such a magnitude after the successful organisation of the Asian Games in 1951 and 1982. However, in terms of the number of participating nations and athletes, this is the biggest on Indian soil.

As President Pratibha Patil and Britain’s Prince Charles declare the Games open Sunday at the majestic Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the venue where the Asian Games were held 28 years ago, India’s billion plus population would be hoping that the razzmatazz erases the memories of complaints from some participating nations about unhygienic conditions and lack of security.

Just two weeks earlier, pictures of unclean toilets, soiled bedsheets and dirty staircases in the Games Village had been splashed across the global media. Several teams postponed their arrival, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty.

On Sep 19, two motorcycle-borne gunmen opened random fire at one of the entrances to the historic Jama Masjid, leaving two Taiwanese tourists wounded and triggering sharp reactions from various countries.

While the Indian authorities put in place a massive and successful clean-up operation in the Village deploying thousands of workers, the security concerns were quickly addressed. Thousands of security personnel trawled the city to ensure a trouble-free Games.

The efforts paid off, and the scathing media criticism first mellowed and gradually turned into virtual paeans about the facilities as almost every athlete and official described the arrangements as “world standard”. Some even termed the amenities as better than in the two previous editions of the Games at Melbourne (2006) and Manchester (2002).

Finally, even the weather gods seemed to be smiling, with the dark monsoon clouds giving way to azure skies and a bright autumn sun — perfect for holding the Games.

There are some notable absentees, including sprinters Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell. Amongst the stars expected are Olympic swimming champions Rebecca Adlington and Leisel Jones, as also teenage sensation Tom Daley, the world diving champion.

The Opening Ceremony promises to be a mesmerising event, encapsulating 5,000 years of the country’s culture with a total of 7,000 men, women and children performing in the programme which is divided into six segments -Rhythm of India, Swagatam, Tree of Knowledge, Yoga, Great Indian Journey and Oscar winner composer A.R. Rahman’s rendition of the CWG anthem “Jiyo Utho Badho Jeeto”.

With dances, drums, music, yoga and textiles all lined up, the sights, sounds and colours of India would be on show. The guests would include New Zealand Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand, Monaco’s Prince Albert II, Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed and Nauru President Marcus Stephen. Also present would be International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.

The Rs.30,000 crore Games (Rs.300 billion/$6.8 billion) are ready to roll.

(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at s.panth@ians.in)

will not be displayed