The 19th Commonwealth Games in Delhi ended with Thursday’s closing ceremony as spectacular as the opening, with most of the sporting events in the 11 days in between going off without a hitch. There were so many reasons the New Delhi Commonwealth Games were under threat: construction delays meant most venues weren't ready for test events, causing concern about how they'd function and shock for some of the first delegates in the athletes' village when they found rooms not very clean only days before the first athletes were due.
Some countries considered withdrawing; some high-profile athletes did.
Everyone from the prime minister to Delhi's chief minister suddenly got involved to urge a last-minute blitz to get things done.
Organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi used the wedding analogy to try and appease critics who doubted New Delhi could deliver on time, although it didn't diminish the negative attention that tarnished the buildup to the Oct. 3 opening. But on Thursday night, with another colorful extravaganza to close the Games 11 days after a spectacular pageant to open them, Indian organizers and Indian people were celebrating a successful conclusion.
India finished second on the medal standings behind Australia, overhauling England for No. 2 spot on the final day of competition and winning more medals than ever. The ceremonies drew high praise. There were no terror attacks during games time. None of the venues collapsed. The monsoon didn't linger and dengue fever didn't plague the village.
"Delhi has delivered," said Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell, who only two weeks earlier had been critical of the late preparations. "The competitions went well, and it was a comfortable, satisfactory experience.
"The venues were all of very high standards. I have the highest praise for the security and while it has been too stringent at times, it is better to err on the side of caution." About 100,000 police and military personnel secured the
Capital, and security precautions were intense and sometimes stifling. The Commonwealth Games Federation has been criticized for letting organisers fall way behind in their preparations. The organisers came under scrutiny amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
The collapse of a pedestrian bridge at the main stadium, injuring 27 workers, and the shooting of two Taiwanese tourists at a popular Delhi site in the weeks before the Games highlighted potential off-field problems. Empty stadiums at the start of competition exposed what seemed to be a lack of local interest. Fennell said there'd be a complete evaluation of the games with a view to improvements before the 2014 games in Glasgow, Scotland. "Aspects of the games, of course, we will have to evaluate carefully," he said. "We would need to ensure that we have perhaps in place more safeguards in terms of technology and some of the other areas."
He noted that the adverse publicity before the Games, which gave rise to increased scrutiny of every little glitch during the event, had an impact on New Delhi 2010.
"A number of athletes were turned off by the negative reports coming out of Delhi," he said. "It started off with a security problem, and then it went on to other things, the preparedness, etc., and some people pulled out. We've got to ensure that we can project the product in a more positive way prior to the games." For the massive cost of staging the games, estimated at somewhere between $3 billion and $10 billion depending on which of the much-needed major infrastructure projects are included, India was rewarded with 38 gold medals and 101 overall.
Characteristically India waited until the last moment to reach its pre-Games target of being No. 2 in the standings, reaching that mark with two medals in badminton on Thursday.
England finished with 37 gold medals, failing to pick up any on the last day, and 142 overall. The Australians topped the standings again, with 74 gold medals and 177 overall.
"We thought that India, with home games advantage, would be significantly ahead of us, and we're proud of the fact that we have got to the wire with them," England's team leader Craig Hunter said.
Among India's most coveted of the Games were the women's 4x400 meter relay victory and the medal sweep in women's discus, the country's first gold medals in track and field in 52 years. "It was also a great games for the Indian contingent, as we have almost doubled our medal tally," Kalmadi said. "The Olympic disciplines were conducted extremely well and the athletes, who are the most important people for the Commonwealth Games, are satisfied with the way things have turned out."
Kalmadi, who was jeered by spectators at both the opening and closing ceremonies, noted "there were apprehensions before the Games began."
"But all aspects surrounding the athletes, the conduct of the event, the overall set-up, the Games Village, the entertainment and food, have been really enjoyed by them and they all return home with a great appreciation of India."
The biggest stars didn't come, with Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell skipping the event to concentrate on their preparations for the world championships, and others blaming injuries or concerns over health and security for not traveling to the Indian capital.
"We had been asked before if the absence of some athletes would affect the Games and I had always maintained that new stars would be born," Kalmadi said. "We have also discovered some young Indian sporting icons and that makes me very happy."
Olympic and world champion Australian pole vaulter Steve Hooker was happy he decided to defend his Commonwealth title.
"There was quite a lot of negative media before the championships, but I've had a great time," he said. "There have been small issues, but the big picture has been fantastic. "Coming to Delhi was certainly coming somewhere different. It's a complete culture shock and something I won't forget." Kalmadi has talked about the Commonwealth Games being a launching pad for a future Olympic bid. IOC president Jacques Rogge was here for the opening ceremony, and said it was a crucial first step. Seb Coe, the British running great who is in charge of London 2012 Olympics organizing committee, said it was crucial for the global development of sports to stage major events in developing countries.
"You get to them, in large part, by creating big events that capture their imagination. That very process means you're going to have to take some of those sports, some of those events, out of your back yard and that means out of your own comfort zone," said Coe, who is part Indian on his mother's side and has relatives in New Delhi. "And, yeah, there will be challenges."
Coe said the Games would leave positives legacies. "Nobody should underestimate the impact of the Commonwealth Games in this country of millions of young Indians who will be watching something other than cricket," he said. "Let's get real and understand that this means taking it out of your comfort zone."