Spotlight Turns To Sports At Commonwealth Games
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By Chris Lehourites
New Delhi, India
Small crowds, minor glitches and the prospect of contracting dengue fever were still a concern for organizers Monday as the spotlight finally turned to sports at the Commonwealth Games.
Swimming was the first sport to get going in New Delhi on Monday, the morning after the games officially opened with a spectacular ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. But health issues, one of the main concerns in the buildup to the games, were again highlighted over the weekend when 30–year–old Indian lawn bowls team official Ruptu Gogoi was admitted to a hospital with the mosquito–borne dengue fever.
English freestyle swimmer Steven Beckerleg, however, said he wasn’t that concerned about the disease.
"We’ve been seeing them spraying frequently," Beckerleg said, "and the fact that one person has acquired it really doesn’t worry me."
Organizers have been regularly spraying pesticides at high–risk areas, including at the athletes’ village and at the swimming venue, where stagnant water provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
"We’ve got supplies of anti–repellents," the New Zealand team said in a statement. "So far we haven’t seen too many mosquitoes but we’re continuing to apply regularly."
McKay Savage, a 34–year–old Canadian who works for a charity organization in London, said at the tennis venue that he had heard about the dengue fever outbreak before traveling to India for the games.
"But I was not super worried. I had noticed there were problems caused by the rains but that didn’t stop me from coming," said Savage, who had previously worked in India for three years. "It was an opportunity to watch something interesting and these things don’t bother me too much."
Dengue fever, a painful viral disease that can be life–threatening, has become an issue in the Indian capital this year because of the extended monsoon season. About 3,500 cases of dengue fever have been reported in New Delhi this year, and seven of the afflicted have died, the Press Trust of India reported.
In the pool, there were five medal events scheduled for Monday. English swimmer Rebecca Adlington, who won two gold medals for Britain at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, will swim in the 200–meter freestyle.
There were also medals to be won in weightlifting and gymnastics.
But problems at the venues remained, including sparse crowds.
At the 19,118–seat field hockey stadium, only about 100 spectators came to watch New Zealand beat Wales 5–1 in the opening match of a tournament featuring India’s second–favorite sport. Rohan Bopanna’s match to open the tennis competition drew only dozens of fans at the 5,015–seat venue.
In netball, Australia beat Samoa 76–39 in front of only 58 spectators.
"Netball is not that huge in India so I can’t imagine the crowd improving much, but we don’t care," Australia shooter Cath Cox said. "If we win a gold medal in front of a man and a dog, that’s fine with me."
Last week, the government said only 200,000 of the 1.7 million tickets for the games had been sold.
Glitches were also reported at some venues. The boxing weigh–in scales were giving faulty readings, causing several athletes to panic because they were said to be too heavy. But after testing the scales, the organizers decided to reschedule to weigh–in to Tuesday morning, the day the boxing competition opens.
Australian swimmer Emily Seebohm, who is going for eight medals at the games, was briefly listed as disqualified in the heats of the 200 individual medley before organizers said it was a mistake.
Just getting to the first day of competition has proven to be difficult for organizers, who had to deal with construction delays, allegations of corruption and security worries in only the second Commonwealth Games to be staged in Asia.
"The preparation to the games was filled with many challenges," Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell said in a statement. "Now in the next 11 days we will focus on the competition and follow the athletes in their quest for victory and glory. The athletes will exemplify the qualities of fair play and respect for all."
This year’s Commonwealth Games bring together more than 6,000 athletes and officials from 71 countries and territories in the British Commonwealth.