India heaves sigh of relief as controversial Games end without major hitch

The most controversial Commonwealth Games in history — marked by oppressive security and low spectator turnout — came to a close Thursday without any major glitches as India celebrated the finale with an extravagant cultural show.

Indian school children perform

Indian school children perform

NEW DELHI — The most controversial Commonwealth Games in history — marked by oppressive security and low spectator turnout — came to a close Thursday without any major glitches as India celebrated the finale with an extravagant cultural show.

Indian administrators were roundly criticized by local and international media and foreign sports delegations before the Games for delays in getting the facilities ready. Some of the living quarters for the athletes were found to be filthy. At one point it had even appeared that the Games would have to be cancelled.

But once the Games started Oct. 3, all the venues were cleaned up and ready. Athletes praised the facilities at the venues and at the village, and only a handful of the more than 6,000 players and officials were reported sick during the Games, belying fears of contaminated water and “Delhi belly.”

India was also successful in the sports arena, winning a record 101 medals, finishing second behind Australia with 38 golds, the last one coming in women’s badminton singles by Saina Nehwal. Australia finished with 177 medals, including 74 golds. England was third with 37 golds.

Overhauled by India, Canada finished fourth with 26 gold — and 75 total medals.

Edmonton cyclist Tara Whitten, who won one gold and three bronze, carried Canada’s flag at the closing ceremony.

Indian authorities will also heave a sigh of relief that the Games passed off without any security incidents — no surprise given that tens of thousands of armed security forces had turned stadiums and streets leading to them into virtual fortresses.

This resulted in many spectators staying away. The low turnout was also the result of mismanagement in the ticketing authority, whose head was fired midway through the competition. Technical glitches prevented people from buying tickets online and those who showed up at the stadium were told that tickets had been sold out.

Local media have also reported alleged corruption, with millions of dollars being pocketed by officials and cronies from the money allocated for the construction of facilities. Estimates for the budget of the Games range from US$3 billion to $6 billion, making it the most expensive Games ever.

New Delhi was awarded the Games over a bid from Hamilton.

But all the controversies were forgotten Thursday, as India celebrated the successful completion of the Games with a cultural show at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

The closing ceremony began with a performance of the martial arts from several provinces of India, and showcased the culture of Scotland, which will host the next Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.

Unlike karate, kung-fu and jiu jitsu, traditional Indian martial arts are little known, even within India, and remain confined mostly to their regions. Among those displayed Thursday was “kalaripayattu,” possibly one of the oldest fighting systems in existence, practised mostly in southern India. It features strikes, kicks, grappling, weaponry and healing methods.

The Scotland segment, which will feature pipers in tartan kilts and the Loch Ness Monster, will be followed by a 30-minute music show by some of India’s top musicians and singers, ending with a pyrotechnics show.

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