India relieved as controversial Comm Games end

AP News
Posted: Oct 15, 2010 12:57 AM
India relieved as controversial Comm Games end

The most controversial Commonwealth Games in history _ marked by oppressive security and low spectator turnout _ came to a close Thursday without any major glitches as India celebrated the finale with an extravagant cultural show.

Indian administrators were roundly criticized by local and international media and foreign sports delegations before the games for delays in getting the facilities ready. Some of the living quarters for the athletes were described as "uninhabitable" only days before the first teams were due to arrive. At one point it had even appeared that the games would have to be canceled.

But after a last-minute rush, the games began on time. Athletes have praised the facilities at the venues and at the village, and only a handful of the more than 6,000 players and officials were reported sick during the games, belying fears of contaminated water and "Delhi belly."

"A month ago there were questions should the games be held at all," said chief organizer Suresh Kalmadi in a speech, which was preceded by loud boos from the 60,000 spectators at the main Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, where the closing ceremony was held.

But "success does not come early or without setbacks ... we remained committed to our task and had unshakable self-belief," said Kalmadi.

India was also successful in the sports arena, winning a national record 101 medals, finishing second behind Australia with 38 golds, the last one coming in women's badminton singles by Saina Nehwal. Australia finished with 177 medals, including 74 golds. England was third with 37 golds.

Indian authorities will also heave a sigh of relief that the games passed off without any security incidents _ no surprise given that tens of thousands of armed security personnel had turned stadiums and streets leading to them into virtual fortresses.

This resulted in many spectators staying away. The low turnout was also the result of mismanagement in the ticketing authority, whose head was fired midway through the competition. Technical glitches prevented people from buying tickets online and those who showed up at the stadium were told that tickets had been sold out.

Local media have also reported alleged corruption, with millions of dollars allegedly pocketed by officials and cronies from the money allocated for the construction of facilities. Estimates for the budget of the games range from $3 billion to $10 billion, making it the most expensive games ever.

But all the controversies were forgotten Thursday, as India celebrated the successful completion of the games with a cultural show at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

The closing ceremony began with a performance of the martial arts from several provinces of India, and showcased the culture of Scotland, which will host the next Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.

Unlike karate, kung-fu and jujitsu, traditional Indian martial arts are little known, even within India, and remain confined mostly to their regions. Among those displayed Thursday was "kalaripayattu," possibly one of the oldest fighting systems in existence, practiced mostly in southern India. It features strikes, kicks, grappling, weaponry and healing methods.

The Scotland segment featured pipers in tartan kilts and the Loch Ness Monster, followed by a 30-minute music show by some of India's top musicians and singers, ending with a pyrotechnics show.

Mike Fennell, the chairman of the Commonwealth Games Federation, said that thanks to the games, "Delhi has now been left with a rich legacy," not only in games infrastructure but urban development as much of the budget was spent on building new roads, flyovers, a new airport and a subway metro system.

"The world will now have a better understanding of this wonderful country and its potential," he said. "Delhi, you have delivered a truly exceptional games."