India opens Commonwealth Games

Spectacular show kicks off 12 days of athletic competition after weeks of bad publicity over country’s preparedness.

The 2010 Commonwealth Games ceremony started in New Delhi with a near-capacity 60,000 crowd [AFP] 

The 19th Commonwealth Games have kicked off in India’s capital amid high security and after weeks of controversy over whether the country would be able to manage such a major event.

New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium hosted the opening ceremonies on Sunday, with all 60,000 seats sold out and lavish festivities featuring some 7,000 performers.

More than 100,000 security forces were posted outside the stadium and across the city to ensure the Games proceed without any interruptions.

Organisers hoped the successful three-hour ceremony puts to rest a recent wave of bad publicity behind them.

The Games have cost at least $6bn, making them the most expensive in history. But preparations have been hit by fears of terrorist attacks, corruption allegations and concerns over “filthy” conditions in the athletes’ village.

The controversy raised fears that India might fall at the final hurdle and be forced to abandon the games as several international teams threatened to pull out of the competition.

Organisers have scrambled to fix the problems, and with thousands of athletes now in New Delhi, the worst of the problems appear to have been fixed.

Mood ‘changing’

Rahul Banerjee, a sports columnist from New Delhi, said that following the frenzy of structural collapses and claims of uninhabitable conditions at the athletes’ village, the “mood finally is starting to change”.

Games at a glance
  It is the 19th Commonwealth Games
  The event runs between October 3-14
  The athlete’s village will host over 6,500 competitors from 71 nations and territories
  Total of 260 events in 17 sporting disciplines over 12 days
  About 30,000 volunteers will assist organisers
  Commonwealth nations make up 1.8 billion people, accounting for one-third of the world’s population


“The opening ceremony really will set the tone for what is to follow in the next 12 days,” he told Al Jazeera.

“This is really as good as it gets outside of the Olympic Games. We will see a very high level of competition.”

Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, reporting from New Delhi, said it appeared that the Games’ organisers spared no cost to ensure the opening ceremony went according to plan.

“The theme song has been done by the Indian composer, A R Rahman, known for his international hit Slumdog Millionaire [and] cost about $1m itself.”

Security problems

However, the country’s present security problems cannot be far from organisers’ minds. The Indian capital has been blanketed by massive security, with 17,000 paramilitary troopers reinforcing 80,000 police.

“There are about 115,000 security personnel across Delhi who will be keeping an eye on things,” our correspondent said.

“Roads have been closed, checkpoints have been placed. At the stadium itself today, 7,500 security personnel will be keeping an eye [out]. “

Spectators for the opening ceremony were individually searched at about 90 checkpoints before being allowed to enter the venue.

Security forces also lined roads leading to the high-walled stadium, encircled by barbed wire fences, and armed guards are posted behind sandbag positions and watchtowers to thwart any possible attack.

P Chidambaram, India’s interior minister, has promised “foolproof security” and urged fans to “turn your attention toward the games –  enjoy the Games.”

The ceremony was attended by Britain’s Prince Charles, India’s president Pratibha Patil and leader of the ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi

Almost 7,000 athletes from 71 nations and territories formerly belonging to the British Empire will compete in the games.

Organisers had hoped for 100,000 foreign spectators to attend the Games, but concerns about an outbreak of dengue fever – a potentially fatal mosquito-borne disease – combined with the chaotic preparations and fear of attacks, appear to have deterred many.

At least one case was reported on Sunday at the athletes’ accommodations as the Games kicked off.

But Mike Andrews, 34, a chef who travelled from London, said such concerns had not deterred him, and he planned to enjoy the games. “I want to watch some good sports and see the country,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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