Athletics track ready but seats remain empty

Athletics track ready but seats remain empty

New Delhi: Organisers worked through the night to get the running track ready before Wednesday’s first athletics events at the Delhi Commonwealth Games, the latest in a catalogue of snags to dog the event.

Attendances were again low on the third morning of competition at the 12-day Games for mostly former British colonies, which has so far been far from the image boost India had hoped to achieve for its $6 billion investment.

Allegations of corruption, shoddy construction, a filthy athletes’ village, security and health concerns all blighted the preparations. Transport issues, technical malfunctions and problems with food have continued the trend into Games.

“I think a lot of adverse publicity leading up to the Games has turned off some people, there is no question about it," Commonwealth Games Federation chief Michael Fennell said about the lack of spectators on Wednesday.

“You can’t have that. What we know we need to do is to rebuild it (Games’ reputation) because the Games are being successfully conducted."

Games chief organiser Suresh Kalmadi said sales would pick up after India’s surge up the medals table, which continued on Wednesday when shooter Gagan Narang grabbed his second gold.

“We sold 50,000 tickets yesterday and have got good response for hockey, tennis, swimming and athletics," Kalmadi told a news conference

Alongside the host nation’s five gold medals from day two, organisational problems were widely reported in Wednesday’s newspapers with the Indian Express publishing details from a leaked internal report.

“Transport is a mess"

“Transport is a mess, botched-up security clearances, sulking volunteers striking work, drivers who get lost, flap barriers that don’t work, missing video boards, food for workforce ‘unfit for human consumption’ — hardly have the lights dimmed on the dazzling opening ceremony when the daily unending roster of complaints is back," read its frontpage.

The elaborate opening ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium caused the race against time to get the track ready for the start of the athletics competition on Wednesday afternoon.

“It was all done, it was checked this morning by the technical delegates who informed us all systems are go for athletics this afternoon," said Fennell.

Other problems have proved harder to solve, including bus drivers who did not know their way around the city, and others dissatisfied with the food and accommodation.

“It has been a big complaint that some drivers are not familiar with the roads and people are spending a lot of time in cars and the athletes complained about difficulty to get to the competition venues," conceded Fennell.

Jiji Thomson, who is in charge of Games transportation, said more local drivers had been brought in to replace those from outside the city.

“We had 2,000-odd drivers and some 800 have left us," he said. “We have sourced some 570 drivers from around the city. Schools are closed, so we got some drivers from there and they know the city better than most."

The determination to avoid a repeat of the attack by militants that took more than 160 lives in Mumbai in 2008 has undoubtedly complicated logistics.

A security operation involving more than 100,000 personnel has added to traffic problems and caused queues for those who do want to get into venues.

An athletics competition denuded of its biggest names by withdrawals begins on Wednesday when 27 gold medals are up for grabs in Delhi. The Games close on 14 October.