The 19th Commonwealth Games were declared open on Sunday in a spectacular opening ceremony that should help repair the damage to India’s image caused by a calamitous build-up to the sporting festival.
The preparations for the $6-billion “friendly games” have been marred by a series of setbacks to India’s ambition of showing off its soft power by hosting its biggest sporting event for nearly three decades.
Organisers are hoping to put all that behind them over the next 11 days of sporting competition between mostly former British colonies but there were still boos on Sunday from the crowd for chief Games organiser Suresh Kalmadi.
Britain’s Prince Charles, who was greeted with chants of “India! India!”, read out a message from his mother Queen Elizabeth, the head of the Commonwealth, and India’s President Pratibha Patil was also given a prominent role.
“I am delighted to declare the Games open,” said the Prince after delivering the message which had travelled in the Queen’s Baton relay from London on a 190, 000km journey through the 71 nations and territories of the Commonwealth.
President Patil then gave her own address, concluding to huge cheers from the 60 000 crowd in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium by saying: “The Commonwealth Games now really are open, let the Games begin!”
Those cheers were a stark contrast to the jeers that greeted Kalmadi when he gave his speech but in keeping with a festive and friendly atmosphere in the stadium, illustrated when the Pakistan team were given a rousing reception despite the tense relations between the neighbours.
The huge security operation around the stadium and city involving about 100 000 police and miltary personnel was a reminder of the safety concerns that kept some athletes away from the Games.
Corruption charges, an attack by suspected militants that wounded two tourists, a dengue fever epidemic, a filthy athletes’ village and the collapse of a footbridge also contributed to a rash of negative publicity around the Games.
About 4 700 athletes are expected to take part in events in 17 sporting disciplines and compete for 272 gold medals before the Games close on October. 14. – Reuters