| Updated at: 1149 PST, Sunday, October 03, 2010|
NEW DELHI: The security is intense. The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, where the opening ceremony takes place, is being described as a fortress, and for once the term is not being used metaphorically. More than 5,000 police personnel have been posted there, and snipers and commandos have been deployed every 10 metres inside and outside the stadium. Body scans and bag inspections are mandatory, not just at the venues and the hotels, but on all the Metro stations as well. Even the Australian sports minister was stopped and frisked when he tried to enter the Games Village.
Security aside, the litany of troubles runs on and on. The Indians have been fighting fires of one sort or another all week long. Frantic cleaning and repair work has been taking place in the athletes' village after several national teams threatened a boycott because of the appalling quality of some of the accommodation. There have been few complaints since the athletes moved in.
Snake catchers have been hired to catch the cobras lurking around the venues – three have been removed so far. Langur monkeys and their handlers have been deployed to scare off the common bonnet monkeys who have been scampering about inside some of the venues.
Last week members of an extreme Hindu protest group, the Rashtrawadi Sena, burned an effigy of the Commonwealth Games Federation's chief executive officer, Mike Hooper, because he was reported to have insulted the citizens of Delhi. As always seems to be the case, a camera crew was on hand to capture the ravings of the lunatic fringe and the pictures were splashed across the news. Another protest group, calling themselves the Anti-Commonwealth Games Front, have been picketing the offices of the Organising Committee, brandishing placards saying "Boycott the poverty Games" and "We want schools not stadiums".
Delhi is supposed to have been destroyed and rebuilt seven times since it was first settled. The current city is said to be the eighth incarnation. After all the construction work that has gone into preparing the city for these games, you could say that it is now on its ninth. Habitat International Coalition estimate that 140,000 families were forcibly evicted and resettled to make room for the new amenities and facilities. Even after all that it is impossible to mask the fact that these Games will be taking place in a city blighted by extreme poverty. In a small field behind the Main Press Centre there are the scattered remains of a shanty settlement, with only a few tarpaulin and cardboard tents still standing among the debris.
Wary of the world's media, the Delhi government's labour department has made sure that there has been plenty of publicity about the compensation made to the 27 workers who were injured when the footbridge at the JNL Stadium fell down. The bridge is back up now, re-erected by a regiment of army engineers. Like everything else at these Games, it is as ready as it will ever be to receive the flood of spectators and competitors. The opening ceremony, with 60,000 seats available, is sold out. The question is whether the facilities will stand up to it.
Amid all the chaos, it is understandable that the organisers are desperate for everyone to concentrate on the sport. But there will be plenty of observers who will be hungry for even a sniff of scandal, especially with so many top athletes missing. Take the 100m, traditionally one of the Games' strongest events. The 11 top-ranked competitors in the Commonwealth are absent, leaving Canada's Sam Effah as the fastest man in the field, with a time of best this year of 10.06sec.
With the athletics undermined by all the absentees, other sports will hope to take top billing. With the home nations, Samoa, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand competing, the rugby sevens promises to be excellent, even if it is unlikely to attract many locals. They will be drawn to the hockey, tennis and shooting, which are likely to pull enormous crowds. Hockey predates cricket as a national obsession in India, and the men's group match between India and Pakistan on 10 October will be one of the highlights of the next fortnight. The tennis is the hottest ticket in town, largely because national pin-up Sania Mirza will be playing in the women's singles. Similarly, shooting received a huge boost because of the success of one man, Abhinav Bindra, who became India's first Olympic gold medallist when he won the 10m air rifle in Beijing. He has been chosen to carry the team flag at the opening ceremony.
Whether the sport will be able to eclipse the controversies that have dogged the build-up is the great question of the Games. If all goes well, in two weeks' time the monkeys, cobras, effigies and terrorists will all be long forgotten. But judging by what we have seen so far, that is a very big if indeed.