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Delhi searches for legacy after CWG


Three months ago, the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi closed on a triumphant note with many Indians boasting that the event had proven pessimists wrong.

Organisers were delighted the stadiums had hosted 11 days of international, multi-sport action without any of the major disasters predicted by many observers.

But such excitement faded quickly after the 6,000 athletes left the city, with attention focusing instead on the vast budget, which ballooned to an estimated ê6 billion dollars, and a series of corruption scandals.

The Games' sporting legacy has also been hard to identify as venues remain locked up and public enthusiasm dissipates despite an impressive medal haul by the host nation, which came second in the table behind Australia.

"These venues will turn into white elephants to be eaten by ants," warned O.P Bhatia, who was in charge of the new netball arena that he complains has remained unused since the end of the Games on October 14.

The ê63-million Thyagaraj Stadium, now handed over to the city government's education department, is an all-round sports complex that Bhatia grumbles is still not open to the local community or students.

"The main Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium also lies idle and it will go to ruins if not utilised," Bhatia said.

The Nehru stadium, built in the 1980s, was given a major upgrade and a stunning new roof to ready it for the athletics and the opening and closing ceremonies. But its future role is uncertain.

"India did well in the Games and if these facilities are freely available to our young men and women then the country would improve its performance in international events," said Bhatia, now a freelance sports administrator.

Many sports in Delhi are also struggling to reap the benefits from the Games, which were meant to promote exercise and healthy living.

"We are begging for training space and although there is so much available in the new stadiums, nothing is being given to us," Amateur Boxing Federation secretary general P.K.M. Raja told AFP.

The Sports Authority of India (SAI) said the venues were still in limbo due to red tape but promised rapid action.

"The takeover is in process and they will be opened to the public soon and so the legacy will be excellent," SAI executive S.S. Rai asserted. "We are equally restless to get going."

Whatever happens to the venues, India will be paying for the Games for years to come.

New figures from the Central Public Works Department show that the ê225-million budget to renovate five of the biggest venues -- including the main stadium and swimming pool -- more than doubled to ê550 million.

The overall cost is thought to have trebled from ê2 billion to ê6 billion.

Such cost overruns have fuelled public anger over alleged corruption and have combined with other scandals to damage the Congress party-led government, which has found itself with a growing reputation for malpractice.

Police raided the home of Suresh Kalmadi, the chairman of the Delhi 2010 organising committee, as part of a probe into the allegations, and two other former Games officials are in jail awaiting trial on corruption charges.

Kalmadi, an MP from the ruling Congress party, was questioned by detectives last week, and further arrests are expected as the investigation widens.

"I never took any decisions alone," he said on December 24. "I am ready for any investigation on any issue."

A panel set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to investigate the graft claims is due to submit its report later this month and two other government bodies are also running separate probes.

The Central Vigilance Commission has already confirmed the use of poor-quality materials and massive cost overruns on construction projects.

Claims include payments to non-existent organisations, wilful delays in executing contracts and wildly over-inflated prices for items including toilet rolls and treadmills.

But authorities insist that the sporting facilities will be used by the public and that the Games kick-started a major infrastructure improvement programme that is still ongoing.

The greatly expanded metro system has transformed life for many Delhi residents, new roads have improved traffic, and a train link from the city centre to the airport should open shortly.

"We now have the latest equipment and world-class facilities and they will be used appropriately," Indian Olympic Association secretary general Randhir Singh told AFP. "The Games will pay dividends."