Protesters demand boycott of Commonwealth Games in New Delhi

By Dennis Passa, AP
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Protesters take to streets against C’wealth Games

NEW DELHI — Protesters took to the streets of the Indian capital Thursday for a second straight day of demonstrations, demanding a boycott of the Commonwealth Games that begin this weekend.

A coalition of more than 20 groups calling itself the “Anti-Commonwealth Games Front” demanded a boycott of the Queen’s baton relay and the games, expected to start Sunday. They were holding placards reading “boycott the poverty games” and “we want schools, not stadiums.”

About 100 people demonstrated 550 yards from the organizing committee’s office in central Delhi.

On Wednesday, Indian activists, upset with what they claimed were racist remarks by Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive Mike Hooper, burned an effigy of Hooper and shouted slogans.

Carrying signs that said “Racist Hooper Go Back,” the crowd was upset that Hooper had reportedly made remarks blaming the Indian population for poor games preparation that included incomplete venues and unlivable conditions at the athletes’ village for delegations that arrived last week. Hooper has denied making any offensive remarks, and has the backing of Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell.

With more than 100,000 police on duty in New Delhi as security for the games, the protests were kept under control. And the scale of the security was likely to deter any large-scale repercussions in the capital after an Indian court decision in Lucknow, a 14-hour drive away. The Allahabad High Court ruled Thursday that a disputed holy site in the town of Ayodhya should be split between the Hindu and Muslim communities.

Conflict over the site has set off bloody riots in the past, and India has sent hundreds of thousands of troops into the streets to keep order.

The Times of India newspaper reported the alleged costs of accommodating Hooper after he moved to New Delhi to observe preparations for the games. The costs included a $30,000 monthly bill for a sprawling farmhouse from when he arrived until the end of 2008.

On Thursday, the protest groups said India was a poor country and cannot afford the games.

“This is an anti-poor, anti-laborer, anti-public drama of 10 to 15 days that will make people struggle for years,” said Jawahar Singh, who heads a group working for the cause of slum dwellers.

“Many people have lost their homes, many have lost their livelihoods. These games are against those very workers who have built the city,” he said in Hindi.

According to a World Bank estimate, more than 800 million Indians survive at less than $2 a day.

Sunil Kumar, a youth leader, said no one was bothered about the fact that laborers were being exploited for the games, including the workers injured last week when a pedestrian bridge being constructed near the main stadium collapsed.

“Two of the 27 laborers injured in the bridge collapse … are still in coma,” Kumar said. “One of those two (had) worked for 21 hours at a stretch before he got injured, according to the log maintained at the site.”

While construction workers and cleaning staff attempted to put the finishing touches on venues and the athletes village, New Delhi was hit by its seventh road collapse this week, two of them near games venues. The resulting large pot holes caused massive traffic jams.

Despite all the problems, dramatic cost overruns and the long delays in building venues, organizing committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi said he had not lost hope of bringing the Olympics to India.

“The biggest legacy (of the Commonwealth Games) is Olympics,” said Kalmadi, who heads the Indian Olympic Association. “Cricket is the most popular sport in our country but it is played by just 10 countries. Olympics has all sports. We have to ensure that Olympics come up. This is our opportunity and CWG will help.”

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge was expected to visit some games sites Friday and will remain in Delhi for Sunday’s opening ceremonies when Prince Charles will represent his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, and officially open the event which runs until Oct. 14.

Meanwhile, Australia has lost two more members of its team, with reigning discus gold medalist Scott Martin among two track competitors that pulled out because of injury.

Australian officials said Martin and hurdler Hayley Butler did not arrive with the rest of the team in New Delhi. Martin, who has a pectoral muscle injury, won discus gold in Melbourne in 2006 and bronze in the shot put. Butler stayed in Australia to recover from stress fractures in both feet.

Women’s discus world champion Dani Samuels was among three who withdrew last week citing concerns over security and health.

Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt, the world and Olympic 100- and 200-meter champion, and Asafa Powell will not be in New Delhi. Other notable absentees include South African runner Caster Semenya and English world heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis.

Australian Steve Hooker, the Olympic and world champion in the pole vault, will attend.

“It’s a personal decision for everyone and I think everyone puts their own value on different competitions, but this is a competition I value very highly,” Hooker said.

AP Sports Writer C. Rajshekhar Rao contributed to this report.

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