New Delhi: When the head of next month’s Commonwealth Games in India says that all the venues are complete, the constant noise of banging hammers and whirring drills that threatens to drown him out suggests otherwise.
Beset by stories of corruption, a dengue epidemic and leaking roofs of stadia, Indian authorities showed off new venues in the face of a storm of media criticism amid worries the Games, a showcase for this emerging global giant, could be a disaster.
“I am sorry to disappoint you, but the stadium is 100% ready. Everything is on time,” Suresh Kalmadi, Organising Committee chairman, told reporters on a tour of the main Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium as labourers put down their tools to wave from the rafters above.
The opening ceremony, to be held in this renovated stadium is only 17 days away. Preparations for the Games, estimated to cost $6 billion and with 8,000 athletes expected, are going down to the wire.
Schools are being closed during the Games amid fears of gridlock in this chaotic city of 18 million. Many people that can afford it are leaving the city for holidays, fearful that plans to restrict traffic will cripple daily life.
But the government has told sceptical Indians and foreigners not to worry. This, officials say, is like a chaotic Indian wedding. Everything comes together at the last moment.
After weeks of criticism, much of the Indian media appears to have come behind the government. One TV station has broadcast a “Be The Solution” campaign.
The Games village, built over 63.5 hectares across the dirty Yamuna river from the city, is also complete, Kalmadi said. Yet the same sound of heavy drilling reverberates around the $230 million accommodation complex. Reports suggest 10 of the 34 tower blocks are under construction, while some delegates who have already arrived in Delhi are being asked to stay in hotels.
While the two towers open to the press are spacious, secure and well equipped, many apartments are dirty and littered with empty boxes. Athletes are expected to arrive from next week.
Bags of rubbish and piles of unused cement are visible around the pathways, while the outdoor training pool shows insect larvae collecting on the surface of the unclean water.
As religious leaders bless the complex, the gardens are waterlogged as workers attempt to stimulate the growth of bare shrubs planted just weeks ago, while technicians rush to fill the designated Internet cafe with networked computers.
Certainly, some venues support Kalmadi’s declaration. The Thyagaraj Sports Complex, purpose-built in two and a half years at a cost of $64.5 million will host the netball competition. The impressive facility has been fully tested and is prepared.
Dhyan Chand National Stadium, built in 1951, was overhauled for the Men’s Hockey World Cup in February. The changing rooms, VIP lounge and pitch are new, but the drab exterior betrays the venue’s age. Mosquitos were breeding here just six weeks ago.
In the village’s training complex, hurdles, pole vaulting equipment and crash mats lie wrapped in plastic as labourers finish installing bathroom fittings. It is evident that despite the claims of the organizers, Delhi’s deadline looms.
“Everything has been left to the last minute. But they say ‘Incredible India’, and things really do come together,” says Dennis Meredith, sports manager for the Hockey tournament.