Games get underway

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NEW DELHI, October 3- The troubled Commonwealth Games got underway with a glittering opening ceremony on Sunday in a fortress-like New Delhi after a shambolic run-up that threatened to derail the event.Britain’s Prince Charles, representing his mother Queen Elizabeth II, formally declared the start of the sporting showpiece at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium after a last-minute scramble to get ready went to the wire.

A crowd of 60,000 packed into the steamy arena to soak up a spectacle aimed at celebrating India’s long history as well as its emergence as a powerful global player.

It was also a riposte to the months of worries over threats of terror attacks, corruption and construction delays that have dogged the event.

Amid fears militants might attack the quadrennial competition, the ceremony was held in tight security, with nearly 100,000 police and paramilitary forces enforcing a lockdown of the Indian capital.

Bazaars and malls were ordered to shut for the day and major traffic restrictions were in place as security forces lined roads and armed guards were posted behind sandbag positions.

Since 2008, when Pakistan-based Islamist militants killed 166 people in a 60-hour assault in Mumbai, India has been fearful the Games, which feature 71 nations and territories formerly belonging to the British Empire, could be hit.

Western governments have persistently warned of the threat of a militant attack during the event, which runs until October 14.

But Delhi police commissioner Y.S. Dadwal has promised "foolproof security".

Until the opening ceremony, the event had been a public relations disaster.

Many of the sports venues have only been completed in recent weeks, the athletes’ village was slammed for being "filthy" and equipment has been installed hastily as the clock ticks down.

Highlighting the last-minute rush, a new metro line linking central Delhi with the main Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was only inaugurated Sunday morning.

Instead of showcasing emerging India, the run-up to the Games have been a national embarrassment, uncovering corruption and inefficiency in its bureaucracy.

Compounding the problems, they were hit by a case of dengue fever on Sunday, with Indian lawn bowls manager Ruptu Gogoi taken to hospital.

But with the event now open, Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell said it was time to focus on the sport.

"The preparations have been filled with many challenges and our hope is that the next 11 days will focus on the competition and the athletes in their quest for victory and glory," he said at the opening.

It is the first time India has hosted the Games and only the second time the event has been held in Asia after Kuala Lumpur in 1998, but a slew of top names have pulled out, dealing another devastating blow to organisers.

Absentees include Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell, tennis aces Andy Murray, Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur, swimmer Stephanie Rice and cyclist Chris Hoy.

But some 4,300 athletes have turned up to compete in 272 events across 17 sports, including aquatics, athletics, badminton, boxing, cycling, gymnastics, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling.

Australia has topped the medals table in the last five Games and is expected to do so again, with chef-de-mission Steve Moneghetti on Sunday expressing confidence that the event would be a success.

"The opening ceremony is here, it is very exciting and there is a tremendous buzz. This is a great moment for Indian sport," he said.

"I’m confident the performances we see will be world class."

And in a boost to India, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said the country could still make a serious bid to host an Olympics, despite the Commonwealth Games problems.

"There is a difference between Olympics and Commonwealth Games. The Olympics is bigger and more complicated," India’s Zeenews quoted him as saying.

"But I think India has set a good foundation stone for the Olympics bid and a successful Commonwealth Games can help India mount a serious bid for the Olympics."

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