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India kicks off Commonwealth Games (Beijing Olympics these are not)

After weeks of concern over the safety and cleanliness of athletes' quarters, India's Commonwealth Games began Sunday with a colorful opening ceremony featuring Bollywood songs, yoga, and rickshaws.

By Staff writer / October 3, 2010

A light installation depicts Hindu Yogic posture at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium during the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, Sunday.

Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters


New Delhi

India kicked off its showcase 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi with an impressive opening ceremony complete with Bollywood songs, yoga, and dancers weaving among bicycle rickshaws.

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But, for sheer drama, the unofficial "pre-Games show" – the country's mad dash to get everything in place to host the quadrennial international Games – still stole the spotlight.

As deadline after deadline was missed, problems mounted in the final weeks. A footbridge collapsed at one of the venues, early-arriving teams found filthy sleeping quarters, and allegations of corruption, fudged safety inspections, and child labor dogged the organizers.

Read this related story: Where are all the spectators for India's Commonwealth Games?

At the same time, India aimed to make these the biggest-ever Games, promising to make the competition among mostly former British colonies a showcase of India's emerging economic power. Despite the national pride at stake, the Indian media vacillated between investigative outrage and irreverent humor about the whole thing.

There are deep truths here: Modern India has massive contradictions, but a winning ability to navigate them openly. In this respect, rival China with its slick Beijing Olympics is far behind.

"The corruption probe is there, but it is a democracy. Let's not forget that, rather than foreign media, it's the Indian media who are after [Organizing Committee chairman Suresh] Kalmadi and company. We are speaking it, and the entire world should take notice of that and applaud that," says Yashwant Deshmukh, an Indian pollster.

In the nick of time

With the last-second help of the Army, thousands of workers, and a providential end to the monsoon, it appears the sports extravaganza has come together in the nick of time. Some 6,000 athletes have arrived to compete from 71 nations and territories, most of them tied to the former British Empire.

"If you [American] guys hadn't thrown the tea in the harbor a few years ago you could have been here," says Andrew Pipe, the president of the Commonwealth Games Canada. Said like a true Canadian.

The 1.8 billion-person, non-American club brings together some obscure locales, including St. Helena, an island in the South Atlantic best known as the place of Napoleon's exile. It's so unknown that a "Know the Unknown" Commonwealth map in the Hindustan Times newspaper incorrectly placed it near the British mainland.

To come to the Games, the four athletes and one coach from the British territory had to take a five-day boat ride to South Africa before catching a flight to Delhi.

"We're hoping to get an airport soon," explains Colin Knipe, one of the athletes competing in shooting. Looking around the Games Village, complete with Internet café, dance stage, and billiards hall, he says, "I didn't think it was so big as this. [The organizers] did a lot of work."

The athletes from the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, meanwhile, use their one airstrip to practice running in lieu of a track.

A different perspective on India's infrastructure delays