Wed, Oct 06, 2010 - Page 20 News List

Games organizers mull giving away tickets


Charlotte McKenna of Northern Ireland competes on the balance beam during team gymnastics at the Commonwealth Games yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

The empty stadiums that marred the first day of competition at the crisis-hit Commonwealth Games may be filled by children and the underprivileged if attendance doesn’t improve.

After weeks of problems and delays in a wide range of areas in the buildup to the games, the sporting events finally began in New Delhi and are into day two. Many of the venues across the city, however, were nearly empty, prompting local organizers to admit that they are considering giving away free tickets.

“We are working on the children from schools. Already steps are being taken in that direction,” local organizing committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi said yesterday at a news conference that was sometimes farcical. “And also from the low level of society.”

A bomb threat later yesterday at the athletes’ village didn’t help a games that has been beset by problems, including a list of athletes who didn’t come because health and security concerns.

New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said police were searching the village after receiving an anonymous phone call claiming that a bomb had been placed there. Bhagat said no one has been evacuated.

While India won its first gold medal of the games at the shooting venue, the leaders of the local organizing committee were sitting alongside the heads of the Commonwealth Games Federation and faced the media for the first time since the event opened.

Kalmadi was confident that all the problems that marred the first day of competition on Monday had been solved overnight, saying that the transportation issues were dealt with and the addition of ticket booths at all venues would lead to bigger crowds.

“As of today, things are all right,” said Kalmadi, who also mistakenly noted that “Prince Diana” had attended Sunday’s opening ceremony before correcting himself and identifying Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall as the attendees.

Lady Diana was the ex-wife of Prince Charles, who is the heir to the British throne and the person who officially declared the games open. Diana died in a car crash in 1997.

Despite the optimism shown by Kalmadi, Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennell said his organization still had a number of concerns.

Another glitch on Monday concerned the weigh-in scales for the boxing competition. Athletes and coaches were upset when the scales were found to be giving incorrect readings, forcing some boxers to take desperate, unnecessary attempts to shed weight.

But organizing committee secretary-general Lalit Bhanot declined to admit that it was a major issue, saying the problem had been “rectified.”

“There’s no problem at all,” Bhanot said.

Mike Hooper, the CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation, also responded to claims that he has been living a lavish lifestyle in India instead of ensuring that deadlines for the games were met.

“It’s just simply not true,” said Hooper, who has also been burned in effigy by locals for reportedly criticizing India in the run-up to the games.

“Obviously it was upsetting personally. I’m not going to delve into it,” Hooper said. “The basis of what led to that, it’s clear, is not correct.”

The 19th edition of the Commonwealth Games have been plagued by construction delays, allegations of corruption and security worries, but much of the focus has now turned to sports.

Yesterday, there were 18 gold medals to be won, and host India won its first two — both in shooting.

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