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Sat 2 Oct 2010 01:33 PM

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Delhi ‘ready’ for Games after last gasp cleanup

Frantic scrubbing and rebuilding has salvaged India’s biggest sporting event in nearly three decades.

Delhi ‘ready’ for Games after last gasp cleanup
2010 Commonwealth Games officials and mascot Shera hold the Queens Baton

Commonwealth Games organisers will Saturday parade through the heart of New Delhi after two weeks of frantic scrubbing and rebuilding salvaged India’s biggest sporting event in nearly three decades.

City police cancelled all leave, calling security for the games a “huge task” with almost 41 locations to protect including competition venues, training sites, the airport and the games village.

“This a moment of great challenge for the Delhi police and we are making sure that, at least from our part, we leave no stone unturned,” Delhi Police Commissioner Y.S. Dadwal told reporters. “Every man is on the job.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh looked to the 12-day competition involving 71 nations and territories to showcase India as a destination for overseas investment. Instead, media reports of filthy accommodation for athletes, the collapse of a stadium footbridge and monsoon floods led to teams delaying their departure for New Delhi and threatened to deter the investors needed to drive growth in Asia’s third-biggest economy, Moody’s Analytics said on September 24.

“After this tremendous mess, things seem to be falling in place,” said Ansgar Sickert, managing director of Fraport AG’s India unit, who has been living in New Delhi since 2006. “If everything goes through smoothly, the impression will be that India can pull it off.”

On the eve of the October 3-14 games, the Queen’s baton, the event’s equivalent of the Olympic torch, will make its way through central districts of the city after a 190,000-kilometer (118,000-mile) journey around competing nations.

“We are ready,” said R.K. Gupta, manager of the city’s Dr S.P. Mukherjee aquatics stadium, before Sunday’s opening ceremony.

The $4.6bn the government has spent on upgrading stadia, refurbishing roads, building overpasses, and power and water utilities to stage the event has been marred by newspaper headlines describing torrential rains, dirty bathrooms and mattresses muddied by stray dogs at the games village, wiring and plumbing that didn’t work and the shooting of two Taiwanese nationals at the city’s main mosque.

 “The negative publicity could deter foreign investment and give multinational businesses considering expanding in India reason to think twice,” Matt Robinson, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in Sydney, said in a note.

Australia’s Dani Samuels, the discus world champion, and English triple-jumper Phillips Idowu were among athletes to withdraw from the event citing health and safety fears.

Commonwealth Games Federation chief Mike Fennell said at a September 25 press conference in Delhi he was disappointed with the Indian organisers and that the lack of preparedness for the sporting event has hurt the reputation of the country.

“A lot of damage has been done to India as a host country,” Fennell said. “I would hope at the end of all this, India would have learnt a great lesson.”

Singh, concerned the nation’s image was being sullied as teams from Scotland, Canada and New Zealand delayed their departure for the games, instructed a group of ministers to closely monitor preparations as organisers pressed thousands of emergency workers into round-the-clock operations.

Steve Edwards, a 24-year-old member of the New Zealand men’s hockey team, says the work has paid off. “We heard reports that things weren’t so good, but we’ve been happy” with what we’ve seen so far, he said yesterday at the games village.

At the Jawarhalal Nehru Stadium, home to athletics events and the opening and closing ceremonies, workers swept pavements clean and added a last coat of paint.

The event, held every four years and first staged in 1930, features 8,000 athletes and officials, most from the U.K. and its former colonies and dependencies. At least 100,000 police and roof-top snipers have been deployed amid warnings of terrorist threats.

New Delhi’s heaviest monsoon rains in at least seven years dogged projects throughout the summer months. “We were praying for the rains to stop and were thankful when it happened on September 21,” said K.N. Sharma, 70, manager of the hockey stadium.

Other venues were welcomed by competitors. “The range is amazing,” Canadian pistol shooter Patricia Boulay said in comments on Team Canada’s website. “It has all of the high-tech electronics that make for a great experience for both the shooters and the spectators.”

The capital’s central shopping district, Connaught Place, built by the British eight decades ago, has been renovated for the games. The collapsed footbridge has been replaced by one built by army engineers in six days.

“The beautification work and other infrastructure has really improved life,” said Chandini Mehta, a marketing executive with the Neemrana chain of heritage hotels. “I am happy for Delhi.”

While organizers said the opening ceremony -- for which ticket prices range from 1,000 rupees ($22) to 50,000 rupees -- will be sold out, Delhi’s 14 million people may not yet be ready to forgive officials seen as aloof for heaping the earlier embarrassment on their city.

“I feel as if someone else is having a party and I haven’t been invited,” said 40-year-old architect Sandeep Bhatnagar. (Bloomberg)

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