Saturday, April 24, 2010

Markets to be Closed on Opening and Closing Ceremony

Delhi Police wants all major Delhi markets to be closed on the opening and closing days of the Commonwealth Games 2010. The opening ceremony of the 11-day sporting extravaganza will be held on October 3 and the closing ceremony will be held on October 14, both at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The list of markets which the cops want shut on those two days include Khan Market, Chandni Chowk, Sarojini Nagar, Connaught Place, Greater Kailash, Karol Bagh, Lajpat Nagar, Rajouri Garden, and others which are popular with foreign nationals.

The move comes days after the US, UK and Australia issued advisories warning their citizens about possible terror attacks in the capital in areas frequented by foreigners. The Delhi Police advisory was sent to various market associations, with the cops asking shop owners to help manage the mega event. Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat said, ‘‘We have asked the market associations for their support as that will help Delhi Police manage the Games and manpower can then be utilized in other places.”

Another senior officer of Delhi Police said the closure of the markets will reduce the burden of law and order on Delhi Police. There will be less traffic and we will be able to focus on security for the Games. Since it is an 11-day sporting event, our resources will be exhausted. The markets can stay open on their weekly offs in lieu of the days they are being asked to shut down,” said an officer. The opening ceremony will take place on October 3, a Sunday, while the closing ceremony will be held on October 14, which is a Thursday and which is likely to be declared a national holiday by the government.

A shopkeeper from Connaught Place said, ‘‘who will bear our losses? Delhi Police wants the entire city to stay inside their houses so they can provide security for Games.”

President of Khan Market Association, Sanjeev Mehra, however, said, ‘‘we will cooperate with the police. It’s a question of national honor and we want to extend our support. All shopkeepers will follow the advisory. Sales will suffer but there was no need for the police to use coercion when asking for markets to be shut down.”

Barapullah Nullah Road to Miss Deadline

The 5.5-km Barapullah Nullah Road connecting the Commonwealth Games Village with Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is once again giving Delhi government sleepless nights. The road will be totally dedicated to Games traffic during the event.

The project has missed several internal deadlines, payment was withheld a couple of times, sub-contractors are complaining about non-payment of dues and recently the chief minister reportedly threatened the contractor, DSC Limited, with blacklisting because of its tardiness. The project manager sometime back wrote to the government asking for emergency powers to change the contractor but was not given the green signal. PWD sources now say the May deadline is impossible to meet. If monsoon is delayed, they may be able to do it by June or it may stretch even to July because carpeting cannot happen till 24 hours after the last shower.

The last internal deadline that was missed was for Crossing Cantilever Launching (CLC) technical ESE for joining two pillars on either side of an existing road — for the stretches across Ring Road and across Lala Lajpat Rai Marg which were to be finished by March. It is yet to be done.

‘‘Given the absolutely tight schedule, this is a serious lapse. The chief minister has taken three-four meetings. In the last meeting which happened 10-15 days back, she even threatened them with blacklisting. We had, at one point, withheld a payment of about Rs 2 crore but that was released later and any other punitive action will now have to wait for the road to be completed. We can’t risk anything at this point,’’ said a senior PWD official.

He conceded that the initial delays had happened over land procurement from the Railways and Delhi Transco but ‘‘over the last few months, it is the contractor who has been playing truant, delaying work, not responding to our missives and even not procuring important equipment like launchers on time,’’ he added.

PWD minister Rajkumar Chauhan conceded that he has been flooded with complaints from sub-contractors of the project. ‘‘Many people have come to me with complaints. They are the only contractors against whom there has been such a flurry of complaints. These things naturally lead to tardy pace of work. We are not allowing it to happen because of our vigilance but this is not a healthy sign.’’ He added that the company has been pressing for a 10% hike in the money to be paid for the Rs 450-crore project. ‘‘We will not accept their demand,’’ he said. He also confirmed that payments to the company had been withheld “several times” for non-adherence to deadlines.

Confirming the meeting with the CM, a DSC spokesperson denied the charges. ‘‘A project like this normally takes three years but we are doing it in 18 months using advanced Norwegian technology,’’ said the spokesperson. ‘‘It is progressing smoothly but recent progress has been slow because of shifting of utilities, coordination with Railways and unexpected hard rock encountered during excavation. We will meet the June-end deadline. There have been some cases in which due to non-performance, payments (to sub-contractors) have been delayed but on the whole there have not been any disputes or the project would not have reached the advanced stage of completion that it is in now.’’

Security Agencies Serious Over Terror Alert

Even as Delhi Police on Thursday maintained that there was no need to react to ‘‘external warnings’’, there were enough indications on the ground that the security agencies were taking international warnings about possible terror attacks in the city seriously.

Senior home ministry officials said they had warned the Delhi Police about possible terror attacks. “We are aware of the recent developments and have taken steps accordingly,” said a senior MHA official. Sources said MHA and MEA had been warned that terrorists might try to scuttle the Commonwealth Games.

The likely target areas according to inputs are crowded places like popular markets and tourist spots. Several markets Sarojini Nagar, Lajpat Nagar, Karol Bagh, Connaught Place and Mehrauli have already witnessed heightened security activities in the last three days.

Sources claimed that the security situation was being closely monitored by MHA. ‘‘We are ready to thwart any terrorist attack in the city,’’ said a senior security officer.

Chief minister Sheila Dikshit assured citizens that security was on top of everyone’s agenda. ‘‘The MHA is on the job,’’ she said. Her comments came in the backdrop of US, UK, Australia and Canada issuing directions to its citizens to restrict themselves from visiting congested areas of Delhi following “increased indications” that terrorists are planning attacks in the capital.

‘‘Constant vigil is being maintained and all security measures have been put in place to prevent any terrorist strikes in the capital. Security is our prime concern,” Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat said. He, however, said that there was no need to react to every warning.

Meanwhile, members of various market associations said the police have become ‘‘very active’’ in the past three days. ‘‘There used to be one PCR stationed at the Sarojini Nagar Market. Now, there are two. The DCP was here three days back to meet us and he gave us tips on how to counter terrorist attacks. We have also deployed more private security guards,’’ said Ashok Randhawa, president of Sarojini Nagar Market Association.

CWG Volunteers find it hard with Organizing Committee

Allegations are that they are not ready with security arrangements and even the infrastructure is yet to be put in place. But the organizing committee for the 2010 Commonwealth Games seems unperturbed about such details.

It seems that matters like arranging adequate toilets for the athletes and getting volunteers for managing the games are issues, which are yet to be addressed. The committee aims to get 30,000 volunteers from different walks of life to organize the mega sporting event. Out of the total 30,000 volunteers more than 5,000 were to be students...

However, scholars from the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (GGSIPU) from where the majority of student volunteers have to come are threatening to pull out, alleging that out of the 5,915 students who got themselves registered, more than 1,000 have not been informed about the timings or dates for the interview.

They claimed that confusing SMSs are being sent to students, who have already given the interviews. Apart from this, names of registered students are also allegedly missing from the lists.

Vibhor Anand, a third year law student, who also heads a volunteer team said, "The interviews are conducted in the most unprofessional manner. I have already given the interview but I got an SMS on Wednesday that my interview is scheduled for Thursday. When I enquired, they told me that I have filled the form twice. However, I have not done so."

The first batch of around 2,000 students has already been interviewed between March 23rd and April 5th.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

4000 Troops to Escort Athletes to and from Venues

India's Ministry of Defense had originally been asked to provide 300 troops for marshalling duties during the 11-day games.

But the Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee revealed yesterday it had asked the country's security forces this week to increase its presence to almost 4000 to escort athletes to and from venues.

The Indian cabinet was due to consider the request last night, which will require the armed forces to redeploy personnel from other states at a time when the country is facing a heightened threat from Maoist rebels waging an insurgency across large parts of India.

The additional measures are unlikely to assuage the fears of Australian athletes, however, who this week expressed concern for the safety of those not covered by high-level Games security - including families, friends and other spectators.

Among those to express fears was retired swimming great Kieren Perkins who: "I've got family, I've got kids and I'm not going to be risking my life for a sporting event."

While Saturday's bomb blast at Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium - which injured eight people - was small in comparison to a February attack in Pune that killed 17 people, it has raised fresh doubts about India's ability to make the event secure.

TS Darbari Assured Foolproof Plan for games

Security plans around October’s Commonwealth Games in New Delhi would be “foolproof” and potential threats had already been identified and thwarted, senior games officials told Australian athletes yesterday.

TS Darbari, joint director- general of the organizing committee of the Commonwealth Games, reassured the athletes about security after bomb blasts injured at least 10 people outside an Indian Premier League cricket match in Bangalore on Saturday.

Darbari, who is leading an Indian delegation to Australia accompanying the baton relay, rejected suggestions that competitors’ family members and supporters would be at risk outside the protection perimeters surrounding the games venues.

“Delhi is very, very safe (and) secure, not only for the sports people who are coming but also for their families and for the tourists,” Darbari told the Australian Associated Press. Security precautions for the October 3-14 games were unprecedented, he said.

“I know what the plan is that is being formulated. I can’t share the details, but let me tell you it is foolproof,” he said.

DR Kaarthikeyan, former director of India’s Central Bureau of Investigation and a security adviser to the organizing committee, said security agencies had already thwarted potential terror attacks but kept the details confidential.

“So many are being rounded up, so many have been detected,” he said. “But then they will not be discussed in public. What have been prevented, what have been planned and the stage of plotting itself, that does not come out.”

Security around the games would be intense and highly visible, Kaarthikeyan said.
“They feel more assured when they see a lot of policemen around and gunmen around, because we cannot take chances,” he said.

Later, Australia’s Commonwealth Games chef de mission, Steve Moneghetti, who ran the last leg of the baton relay with Sydney 2000 Olympic 400m gold medalist Cathy Freeman, said the security situation in India was being closely watched.

“Obviously we’re monitoring it,” Moneghetti said. “It’s good we’re talking about it and aware of it. It’s high on everyone’s agenda. I was there a month ago and it was very safe and secure.”
Australian Commonwealth Games Association CE Perry Crosswhite said the Bangalore bombings had not changed Australia’s position.

“Certainly it (the weekend bombings) is not a good thing, but it doesn’t affect our current position,” Crosswhite said.

“Right now, we’re going to the games and, as we said all along, if athletes (or officials) don’t want to go … that’s their decision and it won’t be held against them.

“I’m very confident the athletes will be protected. The safest place will be the (athletes’) village in Delhi, the venues and the transport routes there and from.”

n Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt would run his first solo 100m of the season next month at the South Korean venue for next year’s world championships, organizers said yesterday.

The world and Olympic triple gold medalist will compete at the pre-championships meeting on May 19 in Daegu, the host city for the world championships in August-September next year.

Australia Warned Citizens to Avoid New Delhi Markets

Australia has not upgraded its travel advisory on India ahead of October's Commonwealth Games, but has warned tourists to avoid some of the city's shopping areas and markets.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade updated its travelers' website on Thursday to give information about the new warnings issued by the United States and Canada a day earlier.

The warnings come as thousands of athletes and tourists prepare to travel to New Delhi for the games and only days after bomb blasts rocked Bangalore ahead of the Indian Premier League semifinals.

Two blasts outside Chinnaswamy Stadium, where the Bangalore Royal Challengers and the Mumbai Indians played Saturday, injured 14 people.

The new Australian warning highlights the dangers posed by crowded areas which foreigners are known to frequent, including six of the city's shopping areas and markets.

``According to these warnings, specific and credible information suggests that markets ... could be targeted by terrorists in the coming days or weeks,'' the department's website states.

``We strongly advise Australians to minimize their presence in market areas of New Delhi.''

Chandni Chowk, Connaught Place, Greater Kailash, Karol Bagh, Mehrauli and Sarojini Nagar are all believed to be possible targets for terrorist attack in the Indian capital, the website says.

Australia, however, has not upgraded the overall level of advice on India, continuing to urge travelers to exercise a high degree of caution while in the country.

On Tuesday, an organizing committee official said security plans around the games will be ``foolproof'' and potential threats had already been identified and thwarted.

T.S. Darbari, joint director general of the organizing committee of the Commonwealth Games, rejected suggestions competitors' family members and supporters will be at risk outside protection perimeters which will surround games venues.

``Delhi is very, very safe (and) secure, not only for the sports people who are coming but also for their families and for the tourists,'' Darbari said.

He said security precautions for the Oct. 3-14 games were unprecedented.

``I know what the plan is that is being formulated, I can't share the details, but let me tell you it is foolproof,'' he was quoted as saying in Sydney.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pathetic Work Conditions at Games Venues

Did the Commonwealth Games committee and the authorities really count the cost, when they offered India the right to host the next games in October 2010?

If medals are being given out for backbreaking labor on miserable wages and impossible working conditions, thousands of migrant workers, slaving to complete stadium and other facilities for the October Commonwealth Games in the Indian capital, will be the champions.

The majority of the estimated 17,000 employees working on games sites are migrants from India's poorest states, who have moved into the city in search of work. It is understood the workers are living in highly dangerous and shocking conditions. They receive less than the stipulated wage and have no access to even the most basic sanitation and health facilities. Their employers do not provide them with the necessary safety equipment.

Two thousand boys, between 14 and 16, are also work on the game sites, in gross infringement of labor laws. The powers that be say it is not possible to keep the children off the work sites.

With such mega projects offering the opportunity for employment, millions of people stream into the city from the impoverished rural hinterland, only to be taken advantage of by greedy contractors. Dunu Roy, director of the non-government organization Hazard Centre, says the contractors have an arrangement with the authorities. "At least the Chinese had in place a welfare system. Here there is nothing, not even basic registration of workers, so that they are left to the mercy of contractors interested solely in maximizing their profits

Lakshmi, a woman worker from neighboring Rajasthan state, took a slight pause from moving bricks piled on her head, to say that she gets paid about half the promised amount of 200 rupees (4.29 U.S. dollars) per day. “My husband is paid slightly more, but we do not protest because there is no work in the fields back home’ she said as a minder shooed her back to work.

Her two-year-old daughter plays happily among concrete mixers, compressors and cranes, remaining at Lakshmi’s side as she works, as the contractors have made no provision for the worker’s children. After a hard day’s work, Lakshmi goes back ‘home’ to a small tin shack and prepares a meal over a smoky, open fire with scraps of whatever burnable material she can manage to find.

“Workers reported that 70 to 200 laborers have died at this site [main venue] due to work-related mishaps. Union representatives, however, said that there have been about 20 fatal accidents, a much lower number but nevertheless an alarming one

The court was told, “Many deaths are occurring but go unrecorded The ‘Indian Express’ daily reported on Mar. 9, 2009, that workers at the main Games venue had been unpaid since December 2008 and that payments were erratic. The responsibility was being laid on subcontractors.

The hidden cost of the Indian games will go down in history as the worst on record. News magazine Outlook reported recently “It is estimated the city will have around three million homeless people as a result of the games

Open Ceremony to be best in the world

Commonwealth Games organizers can't be faulted for confidence, promising the best opening ceremony the world has seen.

Even London 2012 Olympic organizers admitted it would be virtually impossible to surpass the grandeur and spectacle of the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening.

But not T.S. Darbari, joint director general of the Organizing Committee to the Commonwealth Games 2010, who is visiting Australia with the Queen's baton relay ahead of the October 3-14 Games.

"The opening ceremony, the way it has been planned, it'll be the best ever," Darbari told .
"Better than Melbourne, better than any Commonwealth Games, better than Beijing - it's a guarantee."

Games organizers are facing a tight struggle to get their venues completed with the main stadium, swimming complex and cycling venue suffering construction delays and the monsoon season hitting India as early as June.

Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive Mike Hooper in March estimated it could be as late as July until the outstanding venues are completed.

Darbari said construction has been accelerated in the past two months to finish work by June, allowing for test events to be held.

"It's going to be tight but it will happen," he said.

He challenged reports that more than 40 people had died during construction efforts and characterized delays by saying: "Minor incidents keep on happening".

India's Games budget has blown out from $US1.2 billion ($A1.3 billion) to $US2 billion ($A2.2 billion).

Darbari said: "So what. It happens everywhere."

Money is no object since the Indian government and business leaders are leveraging the Games to showcase an international trade and investment campaign targeted at many of the 70 participating countries.

Darbari estimates the Games alone will generate about $US5 billion ($A5.4 billion) of activity for India.

"The Games can be used not only for promoting harmony, peace, friendship and cooperation but also for forging very strong economic ties and enhancing and creating economic relationships," he said.

He also said the test events taking place at the 17 sporting venues will allow for any final adjustments before the games commence.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Come CWG 2010, Petrol pumps may serve as information kiosks

After doubling up as convenience stores, petrol pumps are set to serve as information kiosks also during the Commonwealth Games in October.

During the largest multi-sport event to date in India, Delhi's 400-odd petrol pumps will, besides selling fuel, provide visiting sportspersons information on the Commonwealth Games events, their timing and venues, logistics and other tourist information.

Besides being easily accessible, petrol pumps are almost evenly spread out in the entire national capital and can serve as one-stop information point for athletes from 72 nations, a senior official said.

The idea of using fuel stations for benefit of visiting sportspersons is a brainchild of Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Jitin Prasada who is likely to make a formal proposal to the Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee shortly.

Under the proposal, specially trained persons will man the information kiosks at the petrol pumps during sports extravaganza from October 3 to 14.

The outlets may also sell tickets for the 19th edition of Commonwealth Games, he said.

State-owned Indian Oil Corp (IOC) has 199 petrol pumps in Delhi, Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd (BPCL) 105 and Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd (HPCL) 96 retail outlets.

This is the first time the Commonwealth Games are being held in India and the second time the event has been held in Asia (after 1998 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia).

"Delhi government is putting in extra effort to make the historic city look its best for the visitors during the Games. And Prasada is now offering his help to make it sportsperson- friendly," the official said.

The kiosks would also provide information on shopping areas, tourism attractions, airline and train timings and assist in travel ticketing.

Besides selling petrol, diesel and lubricants, fuel dispensers already offer non-fuel convenience stores or superstores and food joints.

Bombings raise Commonwealth Games worries

Bomb blasts at an Indian cricket ground have renewed safety concerns among Kiwi sports officials.

Cricket and Commonwealth Games officials are waiting for more information after two bombs exploded in Bangalore on Saturday night (NZ time), injuring 15 people.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee said today it was taking the incident seriously and would seek advice from the Government's Major Events Security Committee.

"The NZOC will take action accordingly,'' it said in a statement.

"Athlete safety remains the organization’s highest priority.''

New Zealand Cricket chief executive Justin Vaughan said New Zealand's tour to India in November would likely go ahead.

The security implications of the latest attack would be weighed along with other information, but there was "no real urgency'' to make a decision, he said.

"Obviously, the information around Bangalore will come through in the course of the next few days and that's something we will assess with our security advisers.''

The blasts came a day after the United States issued a new travel alert, warning that "terrorist groups may be planning attacks in India".

The bombs went off outside Chinnaswamy Stadium, where the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Mumbai Indians were about to take the field for an Indian Premier League (IPL) match.

Three more unexploded bombs were found near the stadium last night (NZ time).

"Give us some time, we will let you know who is behind this," M.R. Pujar, a senior police officer in Bangalore, said. "But it appears that the attempt is to scare people."

A home ministry official in New Delhi said criminal gangs may have worked with a sleeper cell from a local militant group to carry out the blasts in Bangalore.

Ammonium nitrate, glycerin and nuts and bolts were used to make the bombs, a forensic science official said.

Early today, the IPL issued a press release saying the semifinals scheduled to be played in Bangalore on Wednesday and Thursday would now be held in Mumbai, which is also set to host the final on April 25.

"We are talking to police and government officials about security arrangements," IPL commissioner Lalit Modi said last night. "We are feeling quite confident.

"The incidents were assessed by local police and the IPL's security agency as being of a minor nature but they have forced our hand," Modi said in a statement.

"This decision is naturally disappointing for the people of Bangalore but has been taken with the tournament's best interests, and the interests of its many varied stakeholders, in mind."

Modi said two extra layers of security would be added outside the already heavily guarded venues for the few remaining regular-season matches and the semifinals and final.

"It will be a little inconvenient for the spectators but we're leaving no stone unturned," Modi said. "Security will be watertight"

Black Cap Ross Taylor, who plays for the Royal Challengers, and media commentator Simon Doull were caught up in Saturday night's (NZ time) attack.

Doull was on the ground when the bombs exploded.

Doull, a former Black Cap, described the blasts as bizarre and frightening.

"It was one of those sounds, while I had never heard it before, you just knew was a bomb," he said.

New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori and Black Caps team-mates Shane Bond and Brendon McCullum also play in the IPL, while former captain Stephen Fleming coaches the Chennai side.
New Zealand Cricket Players' Association chief executive Heath Mills was contacting Kiwi cricketers in India yesterday.

However, he said the attacks "came as no surprise".

He was advising players to stick with their protection officers. Thorough security checks would be carried out before the Black Caps tour in November, he said.

Mr Mills told Radio New Zealand it was a “big wake up call” for everyone involved.

''It's a big incident to be close to and it's shaken Ross Taylor up, that's for sure.''

Safety could never be completely guaranteed, despite official claims, but he hoped that any future concerns would be properly addressed.

In February, an al Qaeda threat warned teams to stay away from the Hockey World Cup, the IPL tournament and October's Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Up to 200 Kiwi athletes are due to compete at the Commonwealth Games.

New Zealand Olympic Committee president Mike Stanley said his committee would get advice from the Government.

"It's a worrying development, and we're keen to know as much as we can before we take it further," he said.

If safety concerns became too great, the team would not go, but he could not say when that decision would be made.

"It could be at any time, if there was a degree of threat we felt was unacceptable."

New Zealand's High Commissioner to India, Rupert Holborow, last night said extra resources would be used for threat assessment after another "discomforting" bombing.

Holborow, speaking from Mumbai, said it was "an unwelcome development".

"This one is focused on a sports venue, which is going to be worrying," he said.

Holborow said he did not expect athletes would be given formal advice by the Government as to whether or not they should take part in the Games.

"I can't pre-judge the lead-up to the event, it will depend a lot on developments and assessments, but the normal thing is for Government to say `we have endeavoured to provide the most accurate picture we can of both threat assessment and the security response' and that should inform athletes and others as to how they want to play it," he said.

Kiwi athletes yesterday were leaving it up to officials to monitor the situation.

Wellington swimmer Gareth Kean, 18, said he trusted the Olympic committee and officials.
"I'm pretty confident, but obviously I'll take any advice that's given," he said.

Black Sticks goalkeeper Kyle Pontifex, 30, said any decisions about safety would be up to individuals.

He had traveled to India in February for the World Cup and had witnessed the security measures.

"They sort of used us as a test event for the Commonwealth Games and the general feeling was that we were comfortable in the environment they created," he said."They certainly threw a lot of manpower at security."

Meanwhile, a team of young Wellington cricketers is still preparing for a trip this month.
The Wellington under-16 boys' team is scheduled to fly to India on April 30 for a 17-day tour, that includes three games at Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Players, parents and the team's managers were waiting for more information, Cricket Wellington chief executive Gavin Larsen said.

"We're working with New Zealand Cricket at the moment and just looking to secure as much appropriate information as I can over the next 24 hours."

If safety concerns became too high, the plug would be pulled on the trip, Larsen said.

CWG Participation Chance Brightens for Indian Lifters

Indian lifters may eventually get to compete in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in the capital after the International Weightlifting Federation agreed to receive in four installments the $ 500,000 fine slapped on the Indian federation for doping violations.

The international body has accepted Indian Weightlifting Federation’s proposal to pay the hefty fine in three more installments after the national body had paid the first one of $50,000 in January just before the South Asian Games in Bangladesh.

Under the payment scheduled as approved by the international federation, IWF will have to pay $75,000 before April 4, $100,000 before July 15 and $2, 75,000 before August 15.

Queen’s Baton in Vancouver

Canada's summer athletes may be riding the wave of enthusiasm from the Vancouver Winter Olympics into the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi come October.

The Queen's Baton Relay – which is the Commonwealth Games equivalent of the Olympic torch relay, minus a lot of the hoopla – came through Toronto yesterday and it brought out some of the athletes preparing to compete for Canada in India. The baton, which contains a message from the Queen, is doing a 190,000 kilometer tour through the 71 nations and territories comprising the Commonwealth of Nations.

Among those carrying the fancy baton (you don't see one of these at kids' track meets) were a pair of Summer Olympians, wrestler Ohenewa Akuffo of Brampton (left in above picture) and shooter Avianna Chao of Newmarket.

Okuffo was able to get a four-day gig working in hospitality for RBC during the Vancouver Games.

“The energy there was unbelievable,” said Akuffo. “You could feel the unity and you knew that was rippling throughout the country. You knew that was just a start. It was like when somebody throws a pebble into the lake. It just rejuvenated you in a way that nothing else could have done. That's what the Olympics do. It unites the country, it unites the world and Vancouver did an amazing job of doing so.”

Chao was also still feeling the positive vibe of the Vancouver Olympics.

“I was just inspired as a Canadian,” she said. “Wow. I mean like Joannie Rochette, that tragedy and then she turned it around and made the Games her own and showed the world. That's unbelievable. To me, that's true Olympic spirit. I was like 'Wow, I've got to work harder.' That's what I felt.”

The 2010 Commonwealth Games will be held Oct. 3-14 in Delhi and are expected to feature most of Canada's top athletes. CBC-TV announced yesterday they will be covering the Games.

“You think about it, not too long ago we had the torch relay come through,” said Akuffo. “That's the beginning of the Olympics. Now, you look at the Queen's baton, that's letting you know that something is on the horizon. It makes it so exciting coming through Toronto because you know it's a huge Indian community also. We're going through their home but they also have their brothers here so it makes it very exciting.”

High Society: Bob Mackin from 24 Hours is reporting that Sports Minister Gary Lunn's hotel bill from Feb. 4 to March 1 in Vancouver and Whistler totaled $10,213.49, or an average of $392.83 a night. Deputy minister Judith LaRocque, the Olympic mission coordinator for the feds, spent an average of $247.55 average.

The athletes might want to use that as leverage next time Lunn says he doesn't have money in the coffers for them.

Rising Numbers: The Quebec speed skating federation has broken the 5,000-member barrier and now has 5,128 members from 48 clubs due to an increase in interest after the Olympics. Now, they just need to get a roof on their Oval.

Hrab leaving: Christian Hrab, high performance director of Canada Snowboard, is stepping down on June 30. He helped guide the team to three Olympic medals (two gold) and great success on the World Cup the last two seasons.

“It has been such a joy to work with so many passionate people from world class athletes, to a highly competent integrated service team to world leading coaches,” said Hrab in a statement. “I am sad to leave all these great people, but the job is done. I am pleased to be moving on to other projects and new challenges.”

1 MW Solar Roof for Thyagraj Stadium

Thyagaraj Stadium in New Delhi has installed a megawatt's worth of solar panels on its roof, Suniva announced Thursday.

Suniva, which was chosen as the supplier for the solar roof, is an Atlanta-based solar-cell and module manufacturer. Suniva secured $50 million to build a commercial production facility in Atlanta in February 2008. The company licensed technology invented at Georgia Tech: extremely thin high-efficiency mono crystalline silicon solar cells that are less than 100 microns thick and claim 20 percent efficiency.

The stadium was built for the 2010 Commonwealth Games taking place October 3-14, the Olympics equivalent for former British territories, colonies, and existing commonwealth members. (About 71 countries participate including Australia, Bahamas, Canada, Kenya, and New Zealand.)

It's the first time India has ever hosted and the New Delhi organizing committee for the games has promised that this will also be the first ever "Green Games." In an effort to be carbon neutral, the committee pledged a series of green venue initiatives including rainwater harvesting, green waste management, sustainable public transport options, energy-efficient fixtures for venue interiors, solar-based lighting for venue exteriors, eco-friendly construction materials, and planting three city forests of trees.

The solar plant on top of Thyagaraj Stadium goes toward that end.

Suniva, which installed 3,640 of its 280Wp modules on top of Thyagaraj Stadium, expects the solar roof to generate approximately 1.4 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.

UD Ministry to spend $186.72 million on infrastructure for 2010 CWG

India's Ministry of Urban Development has allocated Rupees 8.29 billion ($186.72 million) to Delhi Development Authority (DDA), for infrastructure developments in connection with the 2010 Commonwealth Games, which are scheduled to be held in Delhi between October 3 and October 14, 2010. The funds will be used to develop the games village and other competition and training venues.

So far, an amount of Rupees 6.52 billion ($146.85 million) has been released to DDA for infrastructure development and DDA has confirmed that an amount of Rupees 5.89 billion ($132.66 million) has been utilized for these works.

Eight set for 2010 CWG

Another 3 swimmers were added to the list of those who have achieved qualifying times for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October on the fifth day of the Telkom SA Swimming Senior National Championships yesterday.

Darian Townsend (KZN) and Sebastien Rousseau (WP) fought out a closely contested final of the men’s 200m individual medley with Townsend always in the driving seat to win in 2:00.10 and Rousseau’s 2:01.01 was also good enough to beat the target time of 2:01.40.

Gideon Louw also qualified with a semi-final winning time of 22.34 in the 50m freestyle, to bring the total to eight swimmers altogether.

Both Roland Schoeman, in the 50m free semi-finals, and Wendy Trott, in the 400m freestyle, also achieved qualifying times but they had earlier qualified in the 50m butterfly and 800m freestyle respectively.

It was the busiest night of the week-long championships, with no less than nine senior finals (four male and five female), eight disabled finals and four youth finals making for 21 finals in all.
But it took some time before the crowd began to have something to cheer about, the opening four races, all senior finals, failing to produce any spectacular performances.

The first two CG qualifying times to be achieved were both in the men’s semi-finals of the 50m freestyle with the target set at 22.35.

Louw (NT) scraped under it by 0.01 second in 22.34 in the first heat and then it was the turn of Schoeman to cap it with a splendid swim of 22.16 that put him at the top of the list of qualifiers for Saturday’s final.

Challenging Schoeman and Louw will be Graeme Moore, Werner Bosman, Gregor Widmer, Donaven van der Merwe, Jason Lawson, Greg Kieck and Nico Meyer.

The dependable Trott was in a class of her own in the women’s 400m freestyle final as she cruised to victory in 4:08.57, just 0.19 second off her own national record of 4:08.38 at the Beijing Olympics wearing a fast suit.

But her time was also good enough to earn her a second qualifying time for this year’s Games to go with the 800m free she claimed on Thursday.

Townsend had earlier taken the 100m butterfly final by the scruff of the neck with his aim more to gain a place in the men’s 4 x 100m medley relay at the forthcoming Games than with the intention of eclipsing the Games qualifying time of 52.86.

Pushed all the way by his KZN teammate, Chad le Clos, Townsend hit the pads in 53.40, Le Clos in 53.53 with Gauteng’s Neil Watson also in the mix in 53.53.73.

Cameron van der Burgh (NT) captured his second breaststroke title of the meet, adding the 50m to the 100m he won on Wednesday, but exactly three- tenths of a second slower than the Games QT with a time of 27.93.

Donaven van der Merwe (KZN, 28.67) was second and Giulio Zorzi (NT, 28.78) third.
At least four swimmers in the men’s 100m backstroke final were seeking a qualifying time, Charl van Zyl, Ricky Ellis, Darren Murray and Gerhard Zandberg.

But Van Zyl’s winning time of 55.73 just missed the QT of 55.14 with the other three times even slower.

Karin Prinsloo was slow off the blocks at the start of the 50m free but still managed to outperform her Northern Tigers teammate, Vanessa Mohr, to win in 26.29, Mohr finishing in 26.73 and Jo-Mari van Zyl (CG, 27.11) third.

It was a double for Prinsloo after her success in the 100m free on Wednesday.

There was a blanket finish in the 100m breaststroke final, only 0.31 second separating the first three finishers, Taryn Mackenzie (CG, 1:12.20), Ronwyn Roper (KZN, 1:12.42) and Marguerite van Zyl (CG, 1:12.51) all clustered together at the timing pads.

But the title went to Mackenzie as did the 50m breast on Tuesday, but in too slow a time for a Games qualifier (1:09.01).

Mandy Loots put up another good performance to win the 200m backstroke in 2:14.88 going away from Jessica Ashley-Cooper (2:16.30) and Natasha de Vos (2:17.28).

Chanelle van Wyk swam a slower time in the final of the 50m backstroke than she did in getting a QT on Thursday evening, but took the title in 29.28 from Prinsloo (29.41) and Ashley- Cooper (29.62)