Commonwealth Games organizers consider giving away free tickets to children to fill venues

By Chris Lehourites, AP
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

C’Wealth organizers may give away free tickets

NEW DELHI — The empty stadiums that marred the first day of competition at the crisis-hit Commonwealth Games may be filled by children and the underprivileged if attendance doesn’t improve.

After weeks of problems and delays in a range of areas in the buildup to the games, the sporting events finally began in New Delhi on Monday. Many of the venues across the city, however, were nearly empty, prompting local organizers to admit that they are considering giving away free tickets.

“We are working on the children from schools. Already steps are being taken in that direction,” local organizing committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi said Tuesday at a news conference that was sometimes farcical. “And also from the low level of society.”

A bomb threat Tuesday at the athletes’ village turned out to be a hoax. Police said a 16-year-old boy had been cautioned after calling the police from a mobile phone and claiming that a bomb had been placed in the village.

While India won its first gold medal of the games at the shooting venue, the leaders of the local organizing committee were sitting alongside the heads of the Commonwealth Games Federation and faced the media for the first time since the event opened.

Kalmadi was confident that all the problems that marred the first day of competition on Monday had been solved overnight, saying that the transportation issues were dealt with and the addition of ticket booths at all venues would lead to bigger crowds.

“As of today, things are all right,” said Kalmadi, who also mistakenly noted that “Prince Diana” had attended Sunday’s opening ceremony before correcting himself and identifying Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall as the attendees.

Lady Diana was the ex-wife of Prince Charles, who is the heir to the British throne and the person who officially declared the games open. Diana died in a car crash in 1997.

Despite the optimism shown by Kalmadi, Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell said his organization still had a number of concerns.

“There are some issues that we had to deal with and we have assigned those issues to various people to correct,” Fennell said. “And we’re expecting that those will be corrected during the course of the day.”

Another glitch on Monday concerned the weigh-in scales for the boxing competition. Athletes and coaches were upset when the scales were found to be giving incorrect readings, forcing some boxers to take desperate, unnecessary attempts to shed weight.

But organizing committee secretary-general Lalit Bhanot declined to admit that it was a major issue, saying the problem had been “rectified.”

“There’s no problem at all,” Bhanot said.

Mike Hooper, the CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation, also responded to claims that he has been living a lavish lifestyle in India instead of ensuring that deadlines for the games were met.

“It’s just simply not true,” said Hooper, who has also been burned in effigy by locals for reportedly criticizing India in the run-up to the games.

“Obviously, it was upsetting personally. I’m not going to delve into it,” Hooper said. “The basis of what led to that, it’s clear, is not correct.”

The 19th edition of the Commonwealth Games have been plagued by construction delays, allegations of corruption and security worries, but much of the focus has now turned to sports.

On Tuesday, there were 18 gold medals to be won, and host India won its first five — two in shooting and three in Greco-Roman wrestling.

Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang won the men’s 10-meter air rifle pairs event, and Rahi Sarnobat and Anisa Sayyed later won the women’s 25-meter pairs pistol.

“It was always important for us to do well on home ground,” Bindra said. “It gives us a good start and hopefully, we will have many more medals in the coming days.”

Singapore also claimed two shooting gold medals when Swee Hon Lim and Bin Gai won the men’s 50-meter pistol pairs event and Xiang Wei Jasmine and Aqilah Sudhir won the 50-meter rifle pairs.

In track cycling, Australia won the men’s and women’s time trial races and the men’s pursuit. Olympic champion Anna Meares won the women’s 500-meter time trial in 33.758 seconds, Scott Sunderland won the men’s 1-kilometer time trial in 1:01.411.

Jack Bobridge won the 4,000 meters individual pursuit.

England won its first two gold medals of the games in the swimming pool. Francesca Halsall beat world champion Marieke Guehrer of Australia in the women’s 50-meter butterfly, and world champion Liam Tancock won the men’s 50 backstroke.

Also, Leiston Pickett gave Australia its fourth gold of the six-day swimming meet by winning the women’s 50-meter breaststroke and Robert Renwick won Scotland’s first gold with a victory in the 200 freestyle.

Australia won the women’s team gymnastics gold for the fourth time in a row.

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