India breathes sigh of relief as Games conclude

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The Independent Online

The most controversial Commonwealth Games of recent years were officially concluded last night in a powerful, sometimes nationalistic ceremony in Delhi in front of a stadium of roaring spectators.

With Indian athletes having secured 38 gold medals, its best haul ever, and pushed England into third place, the 19th Games ended with a noisy celebration, with the host country seeking to project its energy and dynamism.

The Games' organisers will hope the ceremony, which featured military marching bands, martial arts and video images projected on to a huge inflated blimp, will have provided a sufficiently upbeat send-off for people to forget the event's plethora of early problems.

The Commonwealth Games Federation president, Mike Fennell, said: "Delhi, you have delivered a truly exceptional Games." Earlier, he had declared: "People have seen an extremely positive image of the Games right across the world. People have had to deal with issues, there's no denying that, but the end result has been good."

Suresh Kalmadi, head of the Indian organisers, who was again loudly booed by spectators, announced: "It's not the end, it's just the beginning. For the athletes, it's been a life-changing experience. For India, it's been a new beginning in sport. For the world, it's been a taste of what India can do with the sporting stage."

What is certainly true is that things got better once the sports began. Concerns about security, hygiene and repeated missed construction deadlines almost derailed the event, with many major-name athletes declining to attend and a number of nations considering pulling out their entire teams. Buoyed by the vigour of the opening ceremony, the athletes then took centre stage, creating more than 75 new Games records. That is not to say there were not enduring problems. Difficulties with ticket sales and very tight security – the latter being something visiting nations had demanded – resulted in many events being poorly attended.

The Indian establishment hoped the Games would help to highlight the modern, dynamic avatar of India it is seeking to project. In truth, the Games have probably underscored the best and worst of India, both the energy and potential as well as the wretched corruption and absence of accountability.

"The fairest assessment is that the Games are reflective of the contradictions of the new India," said the analyst Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the author of The Burden of Democracy. "There has been enormous enterprise and success, yet the organisational edifice still leaves something to be desired."

Campaigners said it was important that undertakings to investigate allegations of corruption that marked the Games' run-up were honoured.

Moushumi Basu, of the People's Union for Democratic Rights, a civil rights group, said: "The Games went off OK, but what we want now is a thorough investigation into everything that went on before. We should not be swayed by the opening and closing ceremonies or the gold medals that India has won. Mr Kalmadi and others are already talking about hosting the Olympics. It's all very nice, but you did not follow the rules."

One of the final acts of last night's ceremony was the handing-over of the Games' official flag to officials from Glasgow, the city that will host the Games in 2014. Several hundred Scottish performers then took to the centre of the stadium for a tartan-rich floor display involving a large inflatable designed to represent the "Armadillo" Clyde auditorium and the Loch Ness monster. It was a taste of things to come.