After delays and problems, the attention in New Delhi turns to sports at Commonwealth Games

By Chris Lehourites, AP
Friday, October 1, 2010

Attention turns to sports at Commonwealth Games

NEW DELHI — Fears about unhealthy conditions at the athletes’ village have abated and the venue preparation appears to be going smoothly, leaving athletes a few days to actually concentrate on their sports before the Commonwealth Games open on Sunday.

Preparation for the games have been plagued by problems, and last week they were even put in doubt altogether as the athletes’ village lagged behind schedule and drew sharp criticism from many of the countries entered in the event. Some called it “uninhabitable.”

Now, though, the attention is turning to the playing field.

“We just want to get on with it,” said Australian field hockey player Mark Knowles, a two-time Olympian.

Competition is scheduled to start Monday in a variety of sports, including swimming. The athletics competition opens Wednesday, while field hockey — probably the most popular sport in India that is on the program this year — will be played every day.

“We’re probably going to be playing in the best hockey stadium in the world,” said Knowles, who was on the 2006 team that won the Commonwealth Games gold at home in Melbourne. “There is no worries from us for sure.”

There are 17 sports in total at this year’s 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.

Indian boxer Vijender Singh, who won a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics two years ago, also said it was good to get the focus back on the sport.

“Finally, we are being asked about our chances,” said Singh, who will compete in the 75-kilogram category. “These games are important for us because we will have the support of spectators. Our family members, friends and relatives will all be there to watch us. We hope to inspire a whole generation of youngsters.”

Swimmer Cameron van der Burgh will replace Caster Semenya as South Africa’s flag bearer at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games opening ceremony on Sunday.

South Africa’s Olympic Committee announced on Friday that Van der Burgh would have the honor after world champion runner Semenya was ruled out of the New Delhi event with a back injury.

Off the field, one of the country’s most daunting tasks is keeping the games secure.

India avoided a potentially serious ordeal on Thursday when a court ordered the Hindu and Muslim communities to divide a disputed holy site in the town of Ayodhya, southeast of New Delhi near the border with Nepal. But a day after the decision, no major violent reaction had been reported.

In New Delhi, Indian authorities have deployed nearly 100,000 police officers and soldiers in the streets of the capital to keep the games and visitors safe.

The Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, said Friday that while smaller attacks at the Commonwealth Games are still a concern, a large-scale terror attack was unlikely.

“These are now hard targets, and plots are likely to be thwarted or aborted,” said Rory Medcalf, the Lowy Institute’s international security program director. “But it is quite possible that jihadists, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, will attempt smaller attacks on vulnerable or random targets in the wider Delhi area or elsewhere in India.”

Australian Sports Minister Mark Arbib learned first-hand about the tight security in the city, having to stand for a pat down after arriving at the athletes’ village in an unaccredited vehicle.

“Sorry, there is no concession for anybody. If anybody does not have proper accreditation, he will have to go through the process,” Delhi’s Lt. Governor Tejinder Khanna said. “We cannot be complacent about security … the security at the games village is foolproof.”

Despite the woes, Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell defended the decision to hold the games in New Delhi — only the second time the event has been held in Asia.

“We have to take these journeys or you will confine these events to just a few countries,” Fennell told BBC Sport. “You can’t have the largest Commonwealth country make an acceptable offer and then not accept it. My big hope is the athletes will enjoy it and leave with good memories.”

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