Commonwealth Games: Doubts grow over New Delhi Games

By Terry Maddaford

The powers that be continue to push the "she'll be right on the day" line as the countdown to the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony quickly approaches the 200-day mark.

Scratch just a little below the surface and it's obvious all is not the rosy picture they are trying to paint.

Even the man and woman in the street have reservations about New Delhi's ability to host the Games.

There are huge challenges for this bustling city of 14 million people but, as it has been said in some quarters, "we are very good bandaging to make things on the outside appear okay". But, these same people add, "on the inside it is a complete mess".

The on-going clash of egos between Suresh Kalmadi, the organising committee chairman, and India's Sports Minister Mohinder Singh Gill only adds to the concerns.

As late as yesterday at a media briefing during the three-day seminar attended by team bosses from the 71 competing nations, Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennell admitted there were genuine concerns with progress "at some venues".

The Dr S P Mukherjee Aquatic Complex, being refurbished, is causing most headaches, with schedules lagging far behind. Work at the Jawaharlal Nehru Sports Complex which will host the opening and closing ceremonies and track and field competition has also been delayed while there are genuine concerns that the weightlifting venue too is well behind schedule.

New Zealander Michael Hooper, now much of the time New Delhi-based, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, is adamant the Games will go ahead here.

"There is, despite what people are continuing to say, no plan B [to take the Games back to Melbourne]," said Hooper. "There is no doubt we will celebrate the Commonwealth Games here. There are always issues - some very public [an obvious reference to troubled time between himself and Kalmadi] - but India can, and will deliver the Commonwealth Games.

"Clearly there is more work to be done," said Hooper when asked about infrastructure concerns including on-going power cuts and other issues."

The Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, which is hosting the hockey World Cup, was the first of the refurbished venues to be handed over.

On the surface, it looks adequate. The artificial turf is settling and should provide a fair test. The spectator seating too looks okay. Elsewhere, the stadium is short of what is required.

Paving is woefully below standard. Security is way over the top. While no-one objects to bag searches and x-rays, the decision to make people empty their pockets of any coins at the gate - but then allow them to be given them as change at the food stalls - is bad enough but to stop people taking bottled water into the stadium on hot days and then not provide water inside is ridiculous.

For anyone who has been in this teeming metropolis, it is quickly obvious transport will be a major concern.

It is planned the roads should be divided at Games time with one half for the "Games Family" the other for the general public.

To tell the drivers of the thousands of vehicles fighting every day for every inch of space over five lanes - and it is not difficult to see why in this country 13 people an hour are killed on the roads - they will have only half a road to go about their business seems to be a potential recipe for disaster.

"We are all very proud [to have won the right to host the Games]. I am a proud Indian but I don't think the Games should be here," said someone close to the action but not wanting to be named. "I don't think we are geared up for big international events."

And of suggestions this is the first step towards bidding for an Olympics? "Forget it."

New Zealand chef de mission Dave Currie, who inspected the village and venues this week, refused to comment on what he had seen, saying any word from him would come after he returned home and had time to consider his report.

- NZ Herald

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