Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day and night work at feverish pace to meet deadline

Commonwealth Games 2010: Delhi working through the night to beat deadline
Making headway: labourers working outside the Thyagraj sports complex in Delhi Photo: REUTERS
With only 17 days to go until the start of the Commonwealth Games, the Indian capital is in a frantic rush to be ready for its big opening night.
"My motto is 'Not tomorrow, today. Not today, now'," said Lalit Bhanot, the hard-pressed secretary general of the Games organising committee.
After months of delays and missed construction deadlines, Delhi now has a deadline that cannot be moved. On Oct 3, the Prince of Wales will open proceedings at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium before competition gets under way the following day.
One can only assume that the area around the stadium, currently an expanse of monsoon-soaked mud, will have been landscaped by then and that the sound of hammering and sawing that reverberated during a media open day this week will have ceased.
Comically, while officials gave interviews at the stadium about the completion of the refurbishment work, a painter was perched above them whitewashing the ceiling.
It was a similar story when the Mukherjee swimming complex opened its doors last Sunday. Although the competition area was to all intents and purposes complete, the 10-metre diving platform still needed surfacing, while the warm-up area was being repainted and retiled.
At the Siri Fort sports complex, which will stage the badminton and squash competitions, the gleaming interior was in marked contrast to the scene outside – a temporary slum for the hundreds of migrant labourers laying paving slabs and painting kerb stones.
Bhanot insists that such landscaping is a straightforward job that will be completed within a few days. What he has no jurisdiction over is the "beautification" of central Delhi – a government project of far greater scale in which miles of roads and pavements are still in the process of being relaid in readiness for the Games.
"I feel it is going to be complete very shortly," said Bhanot. "Maybe after one week, maybe after 10 days.
"By the time the athletes start arriving, you will find everything in order. I tell all my competition staff and organising committee staff that the government will complete their work and all the work will be completed on time. There should be no doubt at all."
The lateness of the preparations has turned what should have been a celebration for Delhi and India into a public relations disaster at home. Local press coverage is unremittingly negative.
But not all of the carping is fair. Final preparations may be behind the clock but the Games have already brought the city a magnificent new airport terminal, a state-of-the-art metro system and new roads and flyovers to improve the flow of Delhi's notoriously clogged traffic.
And, external landscaping apart, the new stadiums are of undeniably world-class standard. The Thyagaraj sports complex, where netball will take place, and the Talkatora indoor stadium, which will stage boxing, are both gems, while the velodrome at the Indira Gandhi sports complex is rated by cycling's world governing body as second only to the Beijing velodrome in terms of build quality. What a shame neither Sir Chris Hoy nor Victoria Pendleton will be there to enjoy it.
But the fact that none of the venues received its building completion certificate until Sept 6 has frayed the nerves of the organising committee and the Commonwealth Games Federation. The CGF had warned it would not allow competitions to go ahead without the proper approvals.
"If they'd got the certificates six months ago, life would have been a lot less stressed," said Mike Hooper, the CGF chief executive.
"There's no denying that, being so late, it has impacted on other operational areas, which means there is a lot of work to be done by a lot of people in the coming days.
"Delhi Police very publicly said that, ideally, they would have liked a month to get in the venues to do what they need to do. They haven't. They've got less than that.
"The same goes for the organising committee in terms of making the venues operational in relation to the delivery of sport. It's all very well having spanking new buildings that they got the keys to on Sept 6, but on Oct 3 they've got to play sport in them."
The CGF would be entitled to say "we told you so". As far back as October last year, CGF president Michael Fennell warned the Delhi organisers that "time is your enemy" as schedules started to slip.
But Hooper insists that now is not the time to criticise or apportion blame. There are more important priorities.
"I'm not interested in pointing fingers and saying, 'He should have done this' or 'This should have been done sooner'," said Hooper. "Of course there have been delays. We don't need reminding of that. We've been saying it for the last two years. But we are where we are. The glass is half full. Let's focus on getting it filled up and getting all the work done."
Delhi by numbers
14 million people live in Delhi
190,000 kilometres will be covered by the Queen's Baton Relay
80,000 Delhi police officers will be on duty
6,500 athletes are expected, the most ever for a Commonwealth Games
2,000 CCTV cameras have been installed
700 pounds for a top-priced Opening Ceremony ticket
371 English athletes will be in action
103 Indian athletes have failed drug tests this year
71 nations will take part in the Games
70 pence to watch any first-round lawn bowls match
36 gold medals were won by English athletes in Melbourne four years ago
17 sports will be contested
14 pounds for the cheapest Opening Ceremony ticket
11 venues have either been built from scratch or refurbished

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