NEW DELHI: India reclaimed some of its lost pride with a vibrant opening ceremony to the 19th Commonwealth Games on Sunday after weeks of negative publicity about preparations.
Anger over the chaotic build-up spilled over into the ceremony, however, when chief organiser Suresh Kalmadi, widely held responsible for the mess, was booed as he rose to address some 60,000 spectators at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Britain’s Prince Charles opened the Games after delivering a message from his mother Queen Elizabeth, the head of the Commonwealth, but India’s president Pratibha Patel was also given a prominent role in a diplomatic compromise.
A stylish, three-hour festival of song and dance and no little technical wizardry was a suitable antidote for Indians after the public relations disasters of the last few weeks.
The US$6 billion Games had been intended to showcase India’s growing financial might but threatened to become a national farce and only a late scramble by the embarrassed government salvaged the event featuring mostly former British colonies.
Corruption, shoddy construction and health and security issues blighted the build-up, bringing into question India’s ability to host an event of such magnitude.
An alarmed central government took control, with senior bureaucrats making all the key decisions, and the last-ditch effort seemed to have paid off.
By Sunday, athletes were settling into the Games Village which at one stage was so filthy that some teams either delayed their arrival or took rooms in city hotels.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge indicated that matters had improved on Sunday.
“I think everything will be fine. Of course you can only judge the organisation at the moment of the closing ceremony but I think it’s going well,” Rogge said.
The sporting competition started with the women’s 200m freestyle heats yesterday. Weightlifting and gymnastics medals are also up for grabs on the first day.
The Games close on Oct 14. – Reuters