Security and timing system add to fears in Delhi

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The Independent Online

First the good news. The Queen's Baton arrived safely here in the Indian capital yesterday after an 11-month, 118,060-mile relay from Buckingham Palace through the 71 Commonwealth nations.

The not so good? For one thing, as the clock ticks down to the start of the XIX Commonwealth Games – just two days to go now – the official timing and computerised scoring systems have yet to be installed at all of the venues. For another, half of the 20,000 volunteers who signed up to act as unpaid helpers over the 12-day course of the Games have dropped out. Oh, and the doctor appointed as the chief medical officer of the Games has been struck down by a suspected case of typhoid.

There were other concerns yesterday as security was stepped up across Delhi because of the Allahabad High Court verdict that the disputed holy site of Ayodhya should be split between Hindus and Muslims. It will get tighter still, with elite commandos and 7,500 police officers on duty at the opening ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday, which will be attended by Prince Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall.

Competition does not get underway until Monday but officials are racing against the clock to get the timing and result system up and running by then. The majority of the Games venues have yet to have the required equipment installed. The computerised technology, which is supplied by the firm Swiss Timing, includes electronic timing devices, photo-finish cameras and swimming pool touch pads. One source told The Times of India: "Security at the venues is so tight that getting access is a major problem. Many people working on the project have not got the required accreditation."

It was not entirely clear yesterday why some 10,000 volunteers had decided to withdraw their services, although apparently many were deterred by the troubled build-up to the event and the prospect of having to take the brunt of any further hassles that might emerge when the Games get underway.

It also emerged yesterday that Tarun Garg, the official in charge of medical care at the Games, had been placed on sick leave, suffering from suspected typhoid. His replacement is awaiting accreditation.

Officials have admitted that only two of 11 medical centres created for the Games are in operation and that most of the 3,000 CCTV security cameras they have installed have been malfunctioning. This follows more embarrassment earlier this week when a woman collapsed during a rehearsal for the opening ceremony and her stretcher would not fit into a lift to take her to a medical team on the first floor of the stadium.

Still, as well as the arrival of the Queen's Baton, there was also the boost yesterday of the completion of the Bailey bridge constructed by Indian Army engineers in place of the footbridge that collapsed outside the main Games stadium last week. And the stories of horror which emanated from the athletes' village last week have been replaced by words of satisfaction from the competitors rapidly filling up the quarters in the 34 tower blocks.

"The rooms are great," Kate Walsh, captain of the England hockey team, said. "Security is high but that's good. It's reassuring."

Happily, there have been no further reports of cobra sightings, although long jumper Greg Rutherford, speaking from the England athletics team training camp in Doha yesterday, quipped: "I've been looking at YouTube videos on snake charming techniques and have been brushing up on playing the recorder."

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