By Mike Rowbottom in New Delhi

One of the more prominent posters advertising the merits of the imminent 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi proclaims: "A stimulating and exciting amalgamation of colours, taste, sights, sounds and contrasts!"

Doubtless the South African who reportedly discovered a snake in his room at the Athletes’ Village found the contrast between what he was expecting and what he was experiencing to be stimulating rather than exciting.

But Delhi is indeed full of such contrasts.


An event that has come to be known as the Friendly Games since it first began in Hamilton, Ontario 80 years ago is now taking place amid armed security so ubiquitous that you might imagine India was a country at war.

Every major hotel has guards. The routes to the main Games venues are dense with uniformed men carrying rifles and AK47s. Others sit within sandbagged nests, or stare down from watchtowers. Each official bus carries at least one passenger with a walkie-talkie and a revolver tucked down into their trousers. Pray God all those safety catches work.


The route down from the main Media Centre to the Pragati Maidan metro station starts through a garden which has been recently festooned with coloured paper lanterns and ends on dusty path strewn with rubble and increasingly populated with lethargic wild dogs. At one point, several families have set up a temporary dwelling with tents created from a variety of materials. A little further on, heavy machinery is at work with the signage: "Sewer Work In Progress. Delhi Jal Board".

And this is the route the world’s media have taken this past week.

Quarter of a mile down the road, a handsomely finished gateway to a broad entrance allows in no traffic.


The main roads and highways of this city swarm with traffic and resound with constant, urgent beeping. (One newcomer suggested that the Indian driving test consisted of just one requirement. "Would you now sound your horn?...I am pleased to tell you that you have passed your test.")

Battered taxis, dusty motorised rickshaws, or tuk-tuks, on which the fruitless words ‘Keep distance’ are invariably scrawled, motor bikes, cycle rickshaws, cycles, flow like corpuscles through the city’s veins past verges where young men trim parched grass with minute care.

It is chaos - but a chaos that works.


A media colleague who needed to get from the Main Press Centre to the Athletes’ Village in order to attend a scheduled press conference, only to find that there was no official transport laid on. Not until October 4, it transpired, was it deemed worth organising a bus to connect the main press gathering point with the main point of interest before the action gets underway - on October 3.

But upon witnessing my colleague’s predicament, a volunteer insisted on walking him all the way to the nearest metro station, accompanied him to the right platform and had to be dissuaded from buying him a ticket.


Games volunteers, predominantly young people, are as friendly and helpful as they can be. Doors are opened for you at the merest suggestion that you might be about to enter a building. Chairs left askew in the venues are carefully straightened. If you want to collect paper information, it is gathered for you. 

And yet reports here suggest that almost half of the 22,000 volunteers have gone missing, taking with them their regulation kit, costing Rs 12,000 – around £140. One such absentee was quoted in The Times of India as saying: "Why should I feel guilty? The Commonwealth Games is all about corruption."

An accompanying report details the latest example of what the anonymous "volunteer" was talking about, highlighting the fact that 39 officials for various national sporting organisations have been supplied with kits, blazers, top end accommodation and transport even though they have no function at the Games.

And yet Delhi, and India, looks forward to hosting these Games.

At a gathering in the international zone of the Athletes’ Village yesterday the Indian team held their official welcome ceremony. In a small, sunken amphitheatre, groups of traditionally dressed youngsters sang and danced for team members who sat in blazers and ties and full official garb.

As they filed away from the arena, their duties done, the children chattered and laughed, excited over an experience they would all remember.

Meanwhile the speeches were being made. Delhi, the athletes heard, had achieved many great things in the past, and would achieve many great things in the future, and now it was going to deliver a great Games.

Its athletes would honour their country with medals. All stood for the national anthem. Then cheered.

As the langur monkeys, brought in to deter the smaller, cheeky monkeys which have beleaguered visitors to official Games venues, continue to do their duty, the pressure of expectation in the city is building towards tomorrow’s Opening Ceremony.

Given the threats which have been made by groups opposed to these Games, it will be a nervy business, although the atmosphere here has calmed a little since Thursday (September 30), when the arrival of the Queen’s Baton in the city coincided with the critical ruling over the long-running religious dispute between the Muslims and Hindus over the Ayodhya site, where a mosque was demolished in 1992.

Thankfully for the Organising Committee, the judgement - which allotted two parts of the site to the Hindus and one part to the Muslims - was sufficiently muddied to preclude any violent reaction, and an appeals process is now cranking into motion.

The plan is for Abhinav Bindra, the shooter who won India’s first Olympic medal at the 2008 Beijing Games, to hand the Queen’s Baton over to Prince Charles in tomorrow’s ceremony at the Nehru Stadium. What Bindra did for his country in completing a long process of aspiration is something India itself is seeking to do in terms of sporting ambition.

Suresh Kalmadi, whose stewardship of the Games’ Organising Committee has been so widely criticised, is still doggedly maintaining that these Games can be a precursor to bringing the Olympics to India.

As things stand, that does not look a sensible proposition, although a successful showing tomorrow could start to persuade world opinion in a different direction.

The ceremony itself, which will be witnessed by India’s President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is due to present a three-hour celebration of India’s 5,000-year-old culture, involving 7,000 performers from across the country. One of the highlights is likely to be a display by 20-feet high terracotta puppets from Rajasthan which will be suspended over the crowd.

A crowd of 60,000 is expected. But some tickets for the Opening Ceremony - traditionally one of the most popular events within any Commonwealth Games- are still available, as they are for another perennial touchstone of interest, the men’s 100 metres final. Whether that would have been the case if Usain Bolt and his Jamaican colleague Asafa Powell, winner in the Melbourne Games of 2006, had not withdrawn will never be known.

Such withdrawals, however, are far from unprecedented. These Games, a mixture of world class and second class competition, have often failed to secure sport’s stellar names, particularly in athletics.

It may be that every athlete who has withdrawn with an injury is injured. But the likelihood is that some have elected to be cautious as the demands of next year’s World Championships in Daegu, and the London Olympics one year beyond, loom.

The gymnastics competition, another traditional focus of interest, has been profoundly affected by the fact that the World Artistic Gymnastic Championships in Rotterdam start almost immediately after the Delhi Games finish, and so of the three leading teams - Australia, Canada and England - only Australia are fielding their A team here.

But one of the enduring strengths of the Commonwealth Games is that they offer a place in the sun for competitors who are not always in touch with the Olympic-world championship level. In many ways, they hark back to an earlier, innocent era in sporting competition, and that is precious.

Travelling on the plane to Delhi, with thoughts of dengue fever, Delhi belly and possible terrorist attack no doubt sitting somewhere in the backs of their minds, members of the England, Gibraltar and Jersey teams were in increasingly high spirits.

A couple of England netballers got talking to a lady from Jersey who turned out to be the manager of their bowls team, but who had played netball to a high level as a competitor.

The two female England team members sitting next to me turned out to be wrestlers - Jo Madyarchyk, who works as a welfare officer looking after young players at Manchester United, and Louisa Salmon, a part-time waitress in her family’s restaurant business in Bolton. Neither thought there was a likely prospect of them appearing in the London 2012 Olympics. Both were looking forward to appearing in their first Commonwealth Games.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames