|Facilities at the Delhi Commonwealth Games have come under criticism from officials and the Indian media [AFP]
Growing criticism of the facilities at the Delhi Commonwealth Games have abated and the venue preparation appears to be going smoothly.
The games, set to open on Sunday, have been plagued by problems. Last week they were even put in doubt altogether as the athletes' village drew heavy criticism from many of the countries competing in the event.
Some called the state of facilities at the Games "uninhabitable."
Now, however, the attention is turning to the playing field.
"We just want to get on with it," Mark Knowles, an Australian field hockey player, and two-time Olympian, said.
Competition is scheduled to begin on Monday in a variety of sports, including swimming. The athletics competition opens Wednesday, while field hockey - probably the most popular sport in India that is on the programme for this year's Commonwealth Games - will be played every day.
"We're probably going to be playing in the best hockey stadium in the world," said Knowles, who was on the 2006 team that won the Commonwealth Games gold at home in Melbourne.
There are 17 sports in total at this year's Commonwealth Games, and 272 gold medals to be won through October 14 - 143 for the men, 123 for the women and six in mixed or open competitions.
Off the field, one of the country's most daunting tasks is keeping the games secure.
In New Delhi, Indian authorities have deployed nearly 100,000 police officers and soldiers in the streets of the capital to keep the games and visitors safe.
The Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, said on Friday that while smaller attacks at the Commonwealth Games are still a concern, a large-scale terror attack is unlikely.
"These are now hard targets, and plots are likely to be thwarted or aborted," said Rory Medcalf, the Lowy Institute's international security programme director.
He added: "But it is quite possible that groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, will attempt smaller attacks on vulnerable or random targets in the wider Delhi area or elsewhere in India."
Despite the concerns, Mike Fennell, the Commonwealth Games Federation president, defended the decision to hold the games in New Delhi - only the second time the event has been held in Asia.
"We have to take these journeys or you will confine these events to just a few countries," Fennell said.
"You can't have the largest Commonwealth country make an acceptable offer and then not accept it."
Murray McCully, New Zealand's sports minister, has said Michael Hooper, the New Zealand-born chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, should accept some blame for the problems with the games' preparations.
McCully told the New Zealand Herald newspaper on Friday the CGF had serious questions to answer over its supervision of games planning and the blame for any failures should not rest with the Indian organisers.
He said it was best to get the games over with before mounting a "proper review" of organisational shortcomings, and that the fault should be fairly shared.
Indian nationalists burnt effigies of Hooper in New Delhi on Wednesday, carrying placards which accused him of racism.
|Indian team is confident it can appease an Indian public frustrated with scandal-plagued Games [Reuters]
"We should be careful about simply asserting that Indian officials carry all the responsibility," McCully said.
"[Hooper has] been based there to oversee those arrangements. I certainly think there's going to be a sharing of responsibility, but this is not the time. Let's let them do their jobs and leave the serious questions for afterwards. But they should be asked."
Only record numbers of gold, silver and bronze medals for the home team will appease an Indian public frustrated with the trouble-plagued preparations and repay a massive investment in hosting the Commonwealth Games.
The Indian team is confident it can exceed expectations, and is targeting second place on the medals standings when India hosts the games for the first time.
"We have had the Commonwealth Games in the news for the wrong reasons so far, but the athletes want to do their best so that people here remember the games for their performances," Bhuvneshwar Kalita, India's chef-de-mission, said on Thursday.
"As hosts we are able to field a huge contingent and that will help us win more medals."
India expects to have athletes, politicians and students to carry the Queen's Baton past major Delhi landmarks on Friday as the symbolic relay neared the end of a global journey two days ahead of the Commonwealth Games' opening ceremony.
Having travelled around 190,000km through 70 Commonwealth nations and territories, the Baton arrived in the Indian capital on Thursday as organisers worked to ensure the Games would enjoy a smooth start after a tumultuous lead up.
The British empire's athletes first gathered 80 years ago, facing one another in friendly competitions as a way to bind together the kingdom's vast dominions.
It was in 1930, a time when India was the jewel in the colonial crown, when the subcontinent was ruled by a small corps of English bureaucrats. The competition was known as the Empire Games, though even then, the empire had begun to fade.
India is increasingly becoming a power to be reckoned with and Britain is slowly moving further into the background.
The comparison is particularly glaring when it comes to money.
India has one of the world's fastest-growing economies, nearing at nine per cent, while Britain is slowly emerging from a recession. An Indian conglomerate - Tata - is one of Britain's largest manufacturers and owns some of the country's most cherished brands, including Jaguar and Land Rover.
Five years ago, Britain was the 5th largest exporter to India. Today, it is the 18th. Exports to India dropped from $6.4bn in 2008 to $4.5bn in 2009.