A diplomatic feud between Prince Charles and India is latest problem at Commonwealth Games

By Chris Lehourites, AP
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Diplomatic feud latest woe at Commonwealth Games

NEW DELHI — The Commonwealth Games quelled a brewing diplomatic feud Tuesday, saying both Prince Charles and Indian President Pratibha Patil will essentially have the honor of opening the competition.

With Queen Elizabeth II skipping the Oct. 3-14 event — the first Commonwealth Games she’s missed since 1966 — the prince is scheduled to speak on his mother’s behalf at Sunday’s opening ceremony. The Commonwealth Games Federation said in a statement the prince “will read The Queen’s message, which ends with the opening of the games.”

In the next sentence, however, things become slightly ambiguous.

“The president of India will then deliver her address and signal the commencement of the games,” the federation said.

Although Prince Charles will be the ranking member of commonwealth at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, many Indians feel Patil should be the one to officially inaugurate the games in the absence of the queen.

After media reports started debating who should open the games, the prince’s office, Clarence House, tried to smooth matters.

“There is no row. Both the Prince of Wales and the president of India will have a prominent role in the opening ceremony in Delhi,” Clarence House said. “We cannot be specific about the choreography, but the prince will read out the Queen’s baton message, ending by declaring the games open.”

Patil’s office said: “This is a diplomatic issue which will be decided on by the ministry of external affairs.”

The latest snag comes as more and more athletes — 850 were expected Tuesday — are arriving in New Delhi and moving into the athletes’ village, which was described last week as filthy and uninhabitable.

New Zealand, which had delayed its arrival in India until the village was cleaned up, sent its first athletes into their living quarters Sunday night — two days later than planned.

“There’s been a bit of work go in over the past few days, but as far as we’re concerned, it’s fine,” New Zealand lawn bowling coach Dave Edwards said. “There’s a little bit of dust and some poor finishing with plaster and paint and things like that, but we’re very happy with what we’ve got.”

Some of the buildings still had leaks and there was still water in some basements, according to New Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who took charge of the work at the athletes’ village last week.

“They’re keeping ahead of it. They’ve got a lot of cleaners and workers here, but I understand there are still a few countries experiencing problems,” New Zealand chef de mission Dave Currie said.

The New Delhi police Tuesday said security forces have fully taken over the venues for the Commonwealth Games.

“(The) security situation is totally under control,” New Delhi Police Commissioner Y.S. Dadwal said. “Everything is looked after.”

Organizers were also working to shield visitors from one of India’s most enduring problems: poverty. Many of this city’s beggars have been arrested or forced from the streets, migrants have been rousted and thousands of homes hidden from sight.

Another top athlete also withdrew from the games Tuesday. Cypriot high jumper Kyriakos Iannou, who won the silver medal at last year’s world championships in Berlin, pulled out for “strictly personal reasons,” Cyprus Olympic Committee director Olga Piperidou said.

High-profile athletes including Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Jessica Ennis and Chris Hoy have already bowed out of the games for various reasons.

Indian Tourism Minister Kumari Selja said only 200,000 of the 1.7 million tickets for the games have been sold, but organizers are relying on sales improving once the games begin.

Sebastian Coe, the former middle-distance great and chairman of the 2012 London Olympics, predicts the games will succeed and athletes and fans will “fall in love with India.” Coe, who is part Indian on his mother’s side and has relatives in Delhi, is expected to arrive next week.

“It’s really important that countries which have not traditionally staged major sport events should be encouraged to do so,” he told Britain’s Press Association news agency. “And you have to recognize that there are going to be challenges if you want to truly globalize sport.”

The local wildlife is even making its mark on the games. A 4-foot cobra reportedly was found at the tennis stadium. A member of the South African delegation found a snake in a room at the village.

Last week, a footbridge leading to the main stadium collapsed and injured several constructions workers, and two tourists were recently shot outside one of New Delhi’s top attractions. That fueled speculation the games would be scrapped or countries would pull out. Some top athletes withdrew because of health and safety concerns.

Australian netballer Catherine Cox said she and her teammates had been discussing whether the games would be canceled.

“We talked at home about it. We were wondering a while if it’s going to go ahead,” Cox said. “But we’re just stoked to be here finally.”

Some athletes were facing other problems.

The Indian shooting team, which won 27 medals at the last Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, had to practice with borrowed ammunition because its own stock had not yet arrived in New Delhi. And the host country’s cycling team squabbled with the Sports Authority of India and reportedly threatened to go on strike because of a rule that makes athletes accountable for the loss or damage of imported bikes.

According to Indian cycling coach Chayan Chowdhury, things were resolved amicably when the cyclists discovered they would not be forced to pay anything.

“The cyclists thought that if they sign, they have to pay money,” Chowdhury told the Times of India newspaper. “But when they were told the cycles are fully insured, they decided to go ahead and accept the equipment.”

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