Commonwealth gaffes embarrass India

From a “toxic” pool to empty stadiums and faulty boxing scales, the first week of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games has served up daily blunders that have deepened India’s embarrassment.

The event in the Indian capital, which finishes next Thursday, is the most expensive in the history of the competition, but could set records for another reason: being the most accident and gaffe-prone.

“I think a lot of it has been teething problems and because India has never hosted an event of this scale,” said sports marketing consultant Indranil Das Blah of Kwan, a consultancy.

“But if the planning had been more organised then there wouldn’t have been so many problems,” he said.

The spectacular opening ceremony last Sunday gave no clue of the troubled preparations for the Games, which saw teams threaten to pull out, construction work finished at the last-minute and a bridge at the main stadium collapse.

The three-hour dance extravaganza wowed spectators and the fiercely critical local press almost enough to erase memories of the snake found in the tennis complex or the stray dogs rounded up at the athletes’ village.

Once the sport started, however, the rushed preparations—which left little time for practice or testing—appeared to take their toll.

‘We were treated like cattle’
New problems emerged daily and even the opening ceremony had not gone as smoothly as it had seemed from the stands.

“We were treated like cattle. It was disgraceful,” Australian team chef de mission Steve Moneghetti complained afterwards, saying his athletes were forced to wait in searing heat before they appeared.

On Monday there were farcical scenes at the official boxing weigh-in, which was eventually abandoned after faulty scales showed most of the fighters were too heavy. The scales were eventually repaired.

“During the course of any Games, even if you have perfect organisation, there are issues,” Commonwealth Games Federation boss Michael Fennell told reporters afterwards.

On Tuesday organisers came under fire over the glaringly empty stadiums, even for crowd-pulling sports such as hockey or wrestling, which saw some competitors win medals in front of small groups of cheering family members.

It became a theme of the week, with the opening day of the athletics woefully attended in the giant but largely empty 60 000-capacity main stadium.

The Games’s top Indian organiser, Suresh Kalmadi, who was booed at the opening ceremony, admitted that sales kiosks had not been set up in time, but insisted that solutions would be found to fill the empty seats.

“We are working on the children from schools, already steps have been taken in that direction, and also from the lower level of society,” he told reporters.

There were also complaints from teams about transport, with many of the official Games’ cars being driven by men recruited from outside Delhi with only a passing knowledge of the capital’s streets.

On Wednesday, the athletics event faced a make-or-break few hours as 1 000 labourers toiled through the night to repair the track and field, which were badly damaged during the opening ceremony.

When the sport got under way, spectators were bombarded by insects drawn to the bright floodlights, and many complained about the lack of food and drink and difficulties with heavy security.

Thursday brought sobering news that three Ugandan Games officials required hospital treatment after a car accident at the athletes’ village, when a “tyre killer” safety barrier malfunctioned under their vehicle.

An Indian team official was also hospitalised during the week with dengue fever, a mosquito-borne virus raging in Delhi that had caused many athletes to reflect on whether to take part before the event.

Commonwealth Games organisers meanwhile launched an investigation into the water quality at the event’s pool after reports that more than 50 swimmers had fallen ill.

About 40 English competitors and 12 Australians had complained of feeling unwell after competing at the SP Mukherjee Aquatics Complex, with team officials insisting that the problem area was the warm-up pool.

Plumbing problems were also reported at the athletes’ village, where hundreds of condoms flushed down toilets are blocking sewage pipes.

By the end of the week even the international media had reached breaking point when the central information service, which provides results and schedules, was breaking down so often that a collective complaint was made.

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