Saturday, September 25, 2010

Let the show begin

Commonwealth Games: The party is on

Time the worst seems over. Less than 24 hours after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told all those involved in organising the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi to "leave no stone unturned" to make the event a success, there was a sea-change at the much-maligned Games Village near the Akshardham temple in east Delhi.
The sudden activity to clean up the Village and get the Games going meant that five countries that were circumspect about India's ability to host the mega event - Scotland, Australia, Canada, England and New Zealand - joined the party on Friday by confirming their participation.
Sixty-one English athletes checked into a fivestar hotel on Friday. They are expected to move into the Games Village on Monday.
It was also a day of hectic diplomatic activity.
Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi, vice-chairman Randhir Singh and secretary-general Lalit Bhanot took Commonwealth Games Federation boss Michael Fennell to the Village while sports minister M. S. Gill made phone calls to nations whose participation seemed in doubt after they complained of the "filthy" and "unlivable" conditions at the venue.
In a statement, Fennell, who arrived in Delhi on Thursday night, said: "I am certainly pleased to arrive in Delhi to the news that Australia has moved into the Village to ready for the arrival of their athletes, and with the conformation that England and Wales will be on their way to Delhi shortly." He added that " considerable improvements have been made to the Games Village." Sources said these improvements were done after the PM showed his annoyance by stopping sports minister Gill from making a presentation during a meeting of the cabinet on Thursday. Singh was understood to have told Gill, who had come with a file, that the situation had already been reviewed earlier that evening and that it was the time " to act" and "not talk". Minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office, Prithviraj Chavan, also hinted at Singh's annoyance although he termed it as " concern" over threats of pullout by some teams.
Insiders associated with "Operation Cleanup" say that work in the last 48 hours has been going on a war-footing. Bhanot said: "Teams will arrive in large numbers from Saturday. Those who were mocking at the sanitation standards in the Village would themselves be laughed at. There were issues, but now the CWG Village is as clean as Beijing Olympics Village. The visiting teams will vouch for it."
Close to 2,000 workers were involved in Friday's clean- up. The organisers were helped by the sunny skies instead of the cloudy gloom that covered the city for the last three weeks. "The Village is in a festive mood," a government official, who was at the Village on Friday, said. "With just eight days to go for the opening ceremony, the Village workers were joined by Delhi government staff to ensure that there are no health or sanitation concerns." Members of the Indian contingent that moved into the Village said they were happy with their accommodation. "We had a comfortable night's stay and we even had a practice session today," said Indian men's hockey team assistant coach Harender Singh. Other sportspersons such as archers, weightlifters and table tennis players staying at the Village echoed a similar sentiment.
Village officials said some of the smaller Commonwealth nations were, in fact, surprised over the brouhaha. A top Indian Olympic Association official said, "The mood has changed dramatically.
Those who thought England would pull out were wrong. England could not have pulled out of a Commonwealth event. And whatever may have been Scotland's fears about coming to India, it is also true that they are the next hosts and they couldn't have risked skipping these Games." The official said that Fennel met cabinet secretary K. M. Chandrashekhar on Friday and the two reportedly discussed the lastminute preparations for the Games. "There has been considerable speculation about Fennell's meeting with the PM," he said. " But that is unlikely to happen. Fennell wrote to the cabinet secretary after which all hell broke loose and things moved fast forward." On Friday, Commonwealth Games England's chef de mission Craig Hunter gave the thumbs up to the arrangements and said India was gearing up for the event.
"It's a great Games Village. The venues are absolutely world-class. We are looking at getting the rest of the team out there and have a great Commonwealth Games," Hunter said.
UK sports minister Hugh Robertson spoke with his Indian counterpart M. S. Gill and assured him England was committed to the Games. Robertson reportedly confirmed that England's participation was also encouraged by British Prime Minister David Cameron. CWG officials said the Canadian contingent, which screamed blue murder over the filth in the Village, was scheduled to arrive in New Delhi on Friday night. " This will be a big boost for the Games," an official said.
Not that the day was entirely without any hiccups. Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates said India should never have been awarded the hosting rights.
"Delhi is racing against time to be ready for the Games after several missed deadlines," he said.
But International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge said he hoped India could come through just as Greek organisers overcame doomsday scenarios to stage the Athens Olympics in 2004.

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