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Delhi Shutdown On Sunday For CWG Opener

NEW DELHI: Delhi will go into a security lockdown Sunday for the opening of the biggest and most trouble-plagued Commonwealth Games ever. With an estimated 100,000 police and military personnel dedicated to keeping the athletes,
PTI October 02, 2010 17:05 IST
PTI
NEW DELHI: Delhi will go into a security lockdown Sunday for the opening of the biggest and most trouble-plagued Commonwealth Games ever.

With an estimated 100,000 police and military personnel dedicated to keeping the athletes, visitors and games venues safe, and with foreign governments issuing travel advisories highlighting a risk for terror attacks in India during the games, local authorities didn't want to leave softer targets vulnerable.

The Delhi government used a law enacted in 1954 as authority to enforce the closure of shops and markets on the day of the opening ceremony and the Oct. 14 closing ceremony, announcing it to businesses two days ahead of time.

Local organizers proudly declared that the athletes' village, which attracted international condemnation last week due to hygiene concerns, is now almost full of athletes and officials _ more than any previous edition of the event.

While Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell and many of the biggest stars from the 71 countries and territories of the Commonwealth aren't in India, Delhi officials said more than 6,700 athletes and officials had confirmed their entries.

Organizers said that number topped the 5,766 total in Melbourne four years ago.

"More than 5,800 athletes and officials have already arrived in Delhi. With more arrivals scheduled in the coming days, Delhi 2010 is well on the way to becoming the biggest in history," organizing committee secretary-general Lalit Bhanot said. "We are now looking forward to the successful and smooth delivery of the games."

Some countries delayed travel for their teams last week because of the filthy condition of the village in the days before the first athletes were due to check in. Earlier last week, a pedestrian bridge collapsed near the main venue, injuring 27 workers, and two foreign tourists were shot near a popular Delhi attraction, heightening security and safety concerns.

Now officials of netball have threatened a boycott of competition unless their demands for new uniforms, better accommodation and transport are met, the New Zealand Press Association reported.

Netball competition official Saumya Maurya confirmed there had been some issues with technical officials, but "they will be sorted out" and the competition will start on time.

Lifting some gloom over the preparations, the Queen's Baton relay moved through the Indian capital on Saturday as the hours ticked down to the opening. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge was due in town and Prince Charles arrived ahead of a meeting with India's President Pratibha Patil.

The Commonwealth Games Federation quelled a potential diplomatic feud over the opening of the games when it revealed Tuesday that both Prince Charles, representing Queen Elizabeth II, and Patil will essentially share the honor.

Bhanot said the problems that overshadowed the recent preparations had been fixed and the games were ready to go. But work continued frantically at venues, which missed several construction deadlines and haven't had large-scale pre-games events to test transport, security, ticket and communications.

Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell agreed that most of the most necessary work is done, but stressed the need to maintain standards in the village for the next two weeks and to quickly finalize preparations elsewhere.

In an interview with games broadcaster the BBC, Fennell was critical of the delays and problems that have caused negative global attention.

"People are working hard and want to do well but sometimes the coordination and intention to follow through is not always good," Fennell said. "You have to applaud their efforts but the management and systematic follow through was just not there."

He rejected the argument that the CGF should have done more to keep local organizers on schedule.

"You can only do so much, you have to rely on them to follow your advice," Fennell said. "You entrust the organization to an organizing committee and that organizing committee has to get on with the job."

Fennell said taking the games to India for the first time had been an important and necessary learning experience.

"My big hope is the athletes will enjoy it and leave with good memories."

Competition is scheduled to start Monday in a variety of sports, including swimming. The athletics competition opens Wednesday.

There are 17 sports in total at this year's Commonwealth Games, and 272 gold medals to be won through Oct. 14 _ 143 for the men, 123 for the women and six in mixed or open competitions. AP