From poor turnout to strikes, persistent problems put Comm Games officials on defensive

By Dennis Passa, AP
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Problems putting Comm Games officials on defensive

NEW DELHI — After averting the ultimate embarrassment of having to delay the start of athletics competition due to a damaged track, organizers of the Commonwealth Games were dealing with yet another problem Wednesday when word came of a transit strike.

Competition was due to start on time in track and field Wednesday, to the surprise of some commentators. Olympic triple jump champion Jonathan Edwards, who saw the condition of the track and the infield on the eve of the first events, described it as “beyond anything that I imagined.”

A last-minute rush to fix and clean sections of the track and relay turf in the infield — caused by vehicle and human traffic during Sunday’s spectacular opening ceremony — got the stadium in good enough shape for the international athletics federation to approve it for competition hours before athletes were set to race.

As one problem is resolved, however, another is there to take its place.

Press Trust of India reported that 800 bus drivers had stopped turning up for Commonwealth Games duties due to complaints about long working hours and heavy security, but local organizers were bringing in more than 900 local drivers to replace them. The bad news is, there’s no time for training. On the upside, though, most are local school bus drivers who’re not busy because school and college students are on vacation.

The driver boycott wasn’t among the problems Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell and local organizing committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi addressed at Wednesday’s morning news conference, where Fennell assured that “all systems are go” for the track and field competition.

Kalmadi, answering questions about why most stadiums continued to be almost empty on the third day of competition, said that an additional 50,000 tickets had been sold Tuesday.

He’d earlier said organizers might have to give away tickets for free to children and low-income people to fill the venues.

Another technical glitch which upset some boxers at the weigh-in was fixed, with Kalmadi saying faulty scales had been checked, and “all 10 were found to be OK.”

Lucky for Kalmadi, world record holder Gagan Narang has been on target at the shooting range to help shift some of the spotlight to sports. After helping India claim its first gold of the games on Tuesday, he shot a perfect 600 in qualifying for the 10-meter Air Rifle and then set a games record 103.6 points in the final round to win his second New Delhi gold — at the expense of compatriot and Beijing Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra. That was gold medal No. 6 for India, keeping the hosts in second place on the table.

Australia continued to lead the way, with their cyclists collecting the first two medals at the velodrome Wednesday.

Teenager Megan Dunn produced an upset win over world championship silver medalist Lauren Ellis of New Zealand and world champion Tara Whitten of Canada to take the women’s points race, while her Australian teammates Kaarle McCulloch and Anna Meares won the women’s team sprint from Scottish pair Jenny Davis and Charline Joiner.

The Commonwealth Games — an Olympic-style competition held every four years — bring together more than 6,000 athletes and officials from 71 countries and territories. India wanted the games, which ended up costing between $3 billion and $10 billion, to showcase its emergence as a growing economic power and possibly attract a future Olympics.

But construction delays, corruption allegations, concerns about security and heavy monsoons put preparations for the games way behind schedule, with complaints about unfinished and filthy accommodations in the athletes’ village embarrassing the hosts.

Fennell admitted that all the negative attention had hurt.

“I think that a lot of the adverse publicity leading up to the games has turned off some people, there is no question about that,” Fennell said. “You can’t hide that. We need to rebuild it so the games can be successful.”

It’s also hurting outside India. Television ratings for rightsholders in sports-mad Australia are reported to be the lowest of the past four Commonwealth Games, and Fennell was asked whether the games were losing their relevance.

“It is wrong to draw that conclusion from this,” Fennell said. “The initial feedback for the opening ceremonies was fantastic, and sometimes in the early rounds the sports ratings are not all that high.”

will not be displayed