Games fever: Spotlight at Commonwealth Games turns to sports, although dengue remains an issue

By Chris Lehourites, AP
Monday, October 4, 2010

Spotlight turns to sports at Commonwealth Games

NEW DELHI — Small crowds, minor glitches and the prospect of contracting dengue fever were still a concern for organizers 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.

India had another minor setback when the first gold medal of the games was won by Nigerian weightlifter Augustina Nwaokolo in the women’s 48-kilogram category. Soniya Chanu, who had been expected to win the host country’s first gold medal, finished second and Indian teammate Sandhya Rani Devi Atom took bronze.

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 getting 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.”

Others also seemed to be unaffected by the news.

“We’ve got supplies of 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.”

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.

“This is the peak season,” said Dr. R.N. Singh, the chief medical officer of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation. “Our teams have fanned out searching for breeding places in every nook and corner of New Delhi and spraying anti-larval medicines.”

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 have been reported in New Delhi this year, and seven have died, the Press Trust of India reported.

In the pool, Australia started to dominate right from the start, winning two of the first four swimming gold medals.

Kylie Palmer won the 200-meter freestyle in 1 minute, 57.50 seconds, with Jazmin Carlin of Wales earning silver and dual Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Adlington of England in third. Alicia Coutts later won the 200 individual medley in 2:09.70. Australian teammate Emily Seebohm, who can still win seven gold medals in New Delhi, was second and Julia Wilkinson of Canada was third.

Ryan Cochrane of Canada won the men’s 400 freestyle and Chad Le Clos of South Africa took the men’s 200 butterfly.

Although the swim stadium had a good size crowd for the evening session, many of the venues were struggling to bring people in.

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.

In the morning session at the swimming pool, Seebohm was briefly listed as disqualified in the heats of the 200 individual medley before organizers said it was 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.

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