India far behind schedule for CWG 2010

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India far behind schedule for CWG 2010
New Delhi:  Just a year before India is to host the Commonwealth Games, the boxing arena is filled with dirt and concrete rubble.

The swimming stadium appears to be a half-finished shell. The track and field stadium - the centerpiece of the games - remains surrounded by cranes and many of the highway overpasses needed to shuttle athletes and fans through New Delhi's notoriously clogged streets are little more than concrete pylons holding nothing.

India had hoped the event - from October 3-14 next year and featuring 71 nations and territories of the old British empire - would burnish its international image and smooth the way for bids on more prestigious competitions, maybe even the Olympics.

But the slow pace of preparations and repeatedly lapsed deadlines have sparked fears that even this midlevel event will descend into chaos and deeply embarrass India.

The emerging crisis also feeds the nation's inferiority complex with regard to neighboring China, which was widely praised for its staging of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"The whole prestige of the country is involved in organizing (the Games) on time," political analyst Sujit Dutta said.

Commonwealth Games Federation chief Michael Fennell has grown so concerned that the delays might jeopardize the New Delhi event, he called for a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to develop an emergency recovery plan.

"Time is certainly not their friend," said Mike Hooper, the CEO of the CGF, who is in New Delhi helping oversee the preparations. "One year away is not a lot of time and there is a lot to be done."

The roughly $3 billion event was seen as an opportunity to display the "New India" - with its phenomenal growth rate and its increasing status as an Asia power - on an international stage.

That optimism has now devolved into a desperate scramble to prevent the Games from becoming a humiliating failure.

A government audit issued in July said 14 of the 19 venues were at risk of not being finished on time. In terms of urban infrastructure, more than half of 20 critical bridges and overpasses might not be ready. Media reports said thousands of promised hotel rooms were unlikely to be finished in time.

The government shelved plans to clean up some of the capital's notorious slums in favor of planting thousands of bamboo trees to shield the worst neighborhoods from view. It is sending out magistrates in mobile courts who have the power to remove beggars from the city's intersections.

The Times of India newspaper, in a recent editorial, pleaded with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take over the preparations from the local organizers and put the Games on a "war footing."

"If we goof up in holding the Games, India will become a laughing stock," the newspaper declared. "It would not only impact India's ambitions to hold other major events, such as the Olympics, but more importantly dent the country's standing as an investment and tourist destination."

India's initial bid for the Games promised the venues would be completed by 2007. The local organizers' Web site still says many will be done by September and October 2009.
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In a recent news conference, local organizers insisted nearly all the venues would be completed by the end of the year.

"The job is enormous," said Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the organizing panel. "This is a challenge. There will be problems, but we will face the problems."

Kalmadi angrily denied the delays had forced him to cancel any of the "test events" scheduled as trial runs for the venues before the Games. The next day, with the shooting range badly behind schedule, India announced it would no longer host the 2010 pistol and rifle World Cup in March.

The full facelift underway at Talkatora Stadium in the heart of Delhi was scheduled to be completed by October, a year before Commonwealth Games boxers are to square off in the ring there.

But the stadium is nowhere near completion. Inside is a shell filled with blue scaffolding. The floor is a pit of ripped-up concrete and mounds of earth. Electric wiring dangles from walls. One bathroom is an empty husk of crumbling brick and mud floors except for shiny new blue and gray tiles lining part of the walls.

There was little sign of construction on a recent afternoon. A few dozen people milled around, one or two hammers clanged against metal and an electric saw buzzed in the distance.

Hooper said the December 31 deadline for most of the venues "seems a little bit optimistic," though organizers have promised to redouble their efforts and Games officials were "reasonably confident" the venues would get finished by the do-or-die deadline at the end of March.

That would leave just enough time for workers to install technical equipment, bring in the needed sports gear, lay the turf and test the facilities for players, media, dignitaries as well as deal with a host of other unexpected issues, officials said.

Ron Walker, who was chairman of the organizing committee for the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, said his staff had to fly in emergency equipment from overseas after uncovering problems during the testing for those games.

"There's so many things that can go wrong. Security, we had rehearsals for security for months," Walker, a former Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Australia's second biggest city, and chairman of the annual Australian Formula One Grand Prix, said in a telephone interview.

The Manchester 2002 and Melbourne 2006 Games have been praised by CGF officials as the shining examples of how to host the event.

Some cautioned patience in India, saying the delays were par for the course in a country where everything from meetings to weddings start late.

"Indians do have this knack of pulling things off at the last moment," said T.C.A. Rangachari, a former diplomat.

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