From poor turnout to strikes, problems put C’Wealth Games officials on defensive

By John Pye, AP
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

C’Wealth track starts on time amid transit strike

NEW DELHI — After averting the embarrassment of having to delay the start of competition Wednesday because of a damaged track, organizers of the Commonwealth Games were dealing with a transit driver boycott.

Competition started on time for the track and field events 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 events, had described it as “beyond anything that I imagined.”

A last-minute rush to fix and clean sections of the track and repair 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 track federation to approve it for competition hours before athletes were set to race.

England’s Mark Lewis-Francis won the first heat in a men’s 100-meter field. World champion Usain Bolt did not compete, joining several high-profile athletes who withdrew before the event.

Uganda’s Moses Ndiema Kipsiro won the first gold medal of the track program, holding off Kenya’s Olympic silver medalist Eliud Kipchoge to finish in 13 minutes, 31.25 seconds.

Indian shooters collected two of the other three gold medals at the range Wednesday and the host country finished day three of competition with 11 gold medals and 24 medals overall.

Australia leads the way with 21 gold medals and 46 overall after 53 events. Its cyclists collected the first three golds at the velodrome on Wednesday.

James Goddard won the 200 backstroke, helping England boost its tally to six golds and 26 medals overall.

Press Trust of India reported that 800 bus drivers had stopped turning up for Commonwealth Games duties because of long working hours and heavy security, but organizers were bringing in more than 900 local drivers to replace them. Most are local school bus drivers who are 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 a news conference Wednesday, where Fennell assured that “all systems are go” for the track and field competition.

Kalmadi, asked why most stadiums were almost empty on the third day of competition, said 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.”

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 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.

Jason Dunford, a U.S.-based swimmer, won Kenya’s first gold of the games in the 50-meter butterfly, holding off returning veteran Geoff Huegill of Australia and former world record holder Roland Schoeman of South Africa.

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 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.”

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