Many athletes have commented on the heavy security presence and the number of machine guns on display – a result of months of worry in leading countries about the showpiece being a target for extremists.
A total 17,000 heavily armed paramilitary troopers are reinforcing 80,000 police to counter the danger from militant groups in South Asia. Games veterans say that security exceeds the tight policing of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Delhi police commissioner Y.S. Dadwal promised “foolproof security” at a news conference on the eve of the Games, adding that every police officer “is on the job 24/7. Most are working and sleeping at the police station”. India’s particular form of organisation will finally be put to the test when the event begins with the opening ceremony attended by Britain’s Prince Charles later Sunday. Games supremo Suresh Kalmadi and Sports Minister M.S. Gill have insisted that the showpiece will be like an Indian wedding: disorganised beforehand but a roaring success on the day that sends everyone home with fond memories. When advance parties from participating nations arrived in Delhi two weeks ago they found an “uninhabitable” athletes’ village strewn with builders’ rubble and blighted by blocked toilets and faulty electrics. Many of the sports venues have only been completed in recent weeks, equipment has been installed hastily at the 11th hour and the rush has left little time for rehearsals and testing. Corruption and inefficiency highlighted Instead of showcasing emerging India, the Games have so far highlighted the corruption and inefficiency in its bureaucracy and generated unflattering comparisons with China’s organisation of the Olympics. “I think the reality is that you can’t take a monsoon wedding approach that everything will come together at the last minute,” Mike Hooper, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, warned late last month. “It is such a massive task putting on a multi-sport event like the Commonwealth Games.” That the Games are even taking place at all could be seen as a minor triumph for India given the warnings and threats to pull out from participating nations, mostly countries and territories in the former British empire. There have been multiple setbacks: a bridge collapsed near the main stadium; leading athletes have pulled out, leaving the already thin line-up of stars even more depleted; armed men attacked a tourist bus with a submachine gun. Games slow on commercial level At a commercial level, organisers have struggled to find sponsors and ticket sales have been slow, but have picked up in recent days. “It is a sad state of affairs indeed and, psychologically, puts a question mark against India’s capacity to deliver,” lamented Amit Mitra, general secretary of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Representatives from 71 nations and territories will be in the Indian capital to compete in 17 disciplines ranging from aquatics to wrestling and including lawn bowls and netball. Many stars will be absent, however, including sprinters Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell, tennis aces Andy Murray, Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur, swimmer Stephanie Rice and cyclist Chris Hoy. In an event with far less rigorous competition than the Olympics, sporting minnows such as Lesotho, Swaziland, Caymen Islands, Maldives, Niue and Kiribati have a chance of medal glory. Last-ditch efforts pay off Despite chaotic preparations, there are signs the last-ditch efforts are paying off, with many athletes and teams full of praise for the facilities and security, reviving hopes the Games may yet be a qualified success. “The venues are outstanding and we’re really looking forward to competing there,” Wales chef de mission Chris Jenkins told reporters on Saturday. The Games will be the most expensive in history with a price tag, including related city infrastructure such as transport upgrades, of six billion dollars, Urban Development Minister S. Jaipal Reddy said in August.