Canadian team flag-bearer Ken Pereira poses for media during a team press conference at the main press centre on Saturday in New Delhi. (Feng Li/Getty Images)
Visions of athletes spending hours in the boiling sun without water or bathrooms almost kept Canada from marching in Sunday’s opening ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games.
Games organizers agreed to address the problem after team officials made a “very forceful expression of these concerns,” Andrew Pipe, president of Commonwealth Games Canada, said during a news conference Saturday.
“We would not want, nor would athletes or their coaches allow them, to stand in the sun for hours and hours with inadequate refreshment, inadequate shelter and limited access to washroom facilities,” said Pipe.
“It was very important that it be understood the welfare of our athletes was a priority, not just for us, but many of the Commonwealth Games associations.”
Canadian athletes have also been told they can leave the ceremonies early.
About 150 athletes and staff of the 400-member Canadian team are expected to participate in the opening ceremony. They will have the words “laghe raho” written on their uniform. It’s a Hindi term which means “be at it.”
“It’s a great motto for this,” said Scott Stevenson, director of sport for Commonwealth Games Canada.
A near boycott of the opening ceremonies was just the latest hurdle organizers have managed to clear as the problem-plagued Games prepare to get underway.
The event almost collapsed under the weight of construction delays, financial scandals and fears of terrorist attacks. Canadian officials were horrified to find half-finished rooms, some smeared with excrement, when they tried to move into the athletes village last week.
Conditions in the village have improved to what officials call adequate as most of Canada’s 250 athletes have arrived in India’s capital.
“I was expecting worse than what it is,” said weightlifter Christine Girard, who won a silver medal at the 2006 Games in Melbourne, Australia. “Things are improving fast.
“When I arrived here our room was not ready. We had no blankets, no sheets. Now it’s getting a lot better and it’s more clean. It’s getting better. We are starting to be really comfortable.”
Sweltering heat has been one of the biggest problems for the men’s field hockey team. Temperatures reached a steaming 41 degrees during a 9 a.m. practice Saturday.
“I enjoy it but maybe some of the other Canadian guys are struggling,” said Ken Pereira, the team captain and Canada’s flag-bearer for the opening ceremonies.
Leading the Canadian team into the 60,000-seat Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is a thrill Pereira doesn’t want to rush.
“I’m going to have goosebumps for the full 400 metres,” said Pereira, who was born in Toronto to parents raised in India. “Everybody says to relish it, soak it up.
“I’m really looking forward to it. I just hope I don’t go too fast out there.”
Even Mother Nature has taken a swipe at the Games.
The heaviest monsoon rains in seven years have caused floods. Mosquitoes have led to the worst dengue fever outbreak in a decade. A cobra hissed its disapproval at the tennis venue while menacing monkeys have staked out the swimming facility.
“I want to see that kind of stuff because we don’t see that in Canada,” laughed Pereira. “We haven’t seen anything that out of the ordinary, other than the odd elephant and a cow here and there.”
The Games were supposed to paint India as a waking industrial giant, capable of hosting the world. Instead, a picture of corruption and inconsistency has been drawn.
Cost estimates skyrocket
Cost estimates for the Games have ranged from $3 billion US to more than $10 billion. That’s a staggering figure considering the poverty that still grips much of the population.
Less than a stone’s throw from the sparkling new main press centre families live in squalor. Children crouch in garbage while clothes dry on tents made of tarps.
“It’s definitely an eye-opener,” said Pereira. “You learn to appreciate what you have.”
Half-finished buildings dot the streets like teeth missing from a smile. Walking can be difficult because of exposed wires and open manholes. Stray dogs weave between beggars and food carts.
Soldiers, armed with machine guns, stare coldly over sandbags. One of the staff driving a media bus had an ugly looking automatic pistol shoved in the waste of his pants.
An estimated 100,000 police and military personnel will be on high alert leading up to Sunday’s ceremonies. The city is expected to be under a security lockdown with shops and markets closed.
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge arrived Saturday morning. Prince Charles was due to fly in on the eve of the opening ceremony. He will represent the British royal family when he declares the Games open.
The Games will bring together 6,700 athletes and officials from 71 countries and territories.
Canada finished third at the 2006 Games with 86 medals. The strength of this year’s team is in swimming, diving, weightlifting and wrestling.
“We want everybody to be shooting for medals, that’s across the board in all sports,” said Stevenson.
The problems and challenges faced by the Games hasn’t diminished the determination of the Canadian athletes.
“It’s part of the game,” shrugged Girard.
“Our work as athletes is to give the best performance we can. That’s what we are doing here. We have everything we need to do that. We can eat, we can train and we can sleep well.”
Delhi opening ceremonies cause Canadian concernIn Canada on October 2, 2010 at 13:44