Commonwealth Games

Delhi goes into lockdown

2010-10-02 10:40
New Delhi - New Delhi will go into a security lockdown on Sunday for the opening of the biggest and most trouble-plagued Commonwealth Games ever.

With an estimated 100 000 police and military personnel dedicated to keeping the athletes, visitors and games venues safe, and with foreign governments issuing travel advisories highlighting a risk for terror attacks in India during the games, local authorities didn't want to leave softer targets vulnerable.

The Delhi government used a law enacted in 1954 as authority to enforce the closure of shops and markets on the day of the opening ceremony and the October 14 closing ceremony, announcing it to businesses two days ahead of time.

The Mail Today newspaper splashed the headline "Delhi To Shut Down On CWG Opening Day" across its front page on Saturday, a national holiday in India to commemorate the birth of spiritual and independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi.

Local organisers proudly declared that the athletes' village, which attracted international condemnation last week for the state of its hygiene, is now almost full of athletes and officials - more than any previous edition of the event.

While Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell and many of the biggest stars from the 71 countries and territories of the Commonwealth aren't in India, Delhi officials said more than 6 700 athletes and officials had confirmed their entries.

Organisers said that number topped the 5 766 total in Melbourne four years ago.

"More than 5 800 athletes and officials have already arrived in Delhi. With more arrivals scheduled in the coming days, Delhi 2010 is well on the way to becoming the biggest in history," organising committee secretary-general Lalit Bhanot said. "We are now looking forward to the successful and smooth delivery of the games."

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge was arriving on Saturday. Prince Charles was also due to fly in on the eve of Sunday's opening ceremony, where he will represent the British royal family when he declares the games open.

Bhanot said the problems within the village had been fixed and the games were ready to go. But work continued frantically at venues, which missed several construction deadlines and haven't had large-scale pre-games events to test transport, security, ticket and communications.

Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell agreed that most of the most necessary work is done, but stressed the need to maintain standards in the village for the next two weeks and to quickly finalise preparations elsewhere.

In an interview with games broadcaster the BBC, Fennell was critical of the delays and problems that have caused negative global attention.

"People are working hard and want to do well but sometimes the coordination and intention to follow through is not always good," Fennell said. "You have to applaud their efforts but the management and systematic follow through was just not there."

He rejected the argument that the CGF should have done more to keep local organisers on schedule.

"You can only do so much, you have to rely on them to follow your advice," Fennell said. "You entrust the organization to an organizing committee and that organizing committee has to get on with the job."

Fennell said taking the games to India for the first time had been an important and necessary learning experience.

"My big hope is the athletes will enjoy it and leave with good memories."

Competition is scheduled to start on Monday in a variety of sports, including swimming. The athletics competition opens on Wednesday.

There are 17 sports in total at this year's Commonwealth Games, and 272 gold medals to be won through Oct. 14 - 143 for the men, 123 for the women and six in mixed or open competitions.

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