Commonwealth Games open in lavish ceremony

10:00 am on 4 October 2010

The Commonwealth Games have opened in the Indian capital Delhi with a colourful ceremony in front of more than 60,000 people.

A near capacity crowd at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium watched as drummers beat out a countdown to the opening, and a vast helium balloon rose towards the sky.

After traditional musical and dancing performances, teams made their way into the stadium, led by the home nation.

Netballer Irene Van Dyk carried the flag for New Zealand, leading a contingent of about 150 athletes and officials.

The New Zealand team caused some puzzlement when it disappeared out of the arena during the march, only to be called back out onto the track by team officials, Radio New Zealand's reporter said.

Former New Zealand hockey player David Kasoof, now a member of the athlete support staff in Delhi, walked in the opening ceremony which he described it as "superb".

In a departure from custom, the parade of teams took place much earlier in the ceremony, allowing athletes to enjoy the performances rather than endure a long wait outside the stadium.

The Games were announced open by Indian president Pratibha Patel and Prince Charles, who read a message from the Queen which arrived in a relay baton at the stadium.

The lead-up to the competition was plagued by construction delays, the collapse of a footbridge, and concerns about the state of the athletes' accommodation, and the head of the Delhi organising committee, Suresh Kalmadi, was booed as he took to the stage to make his opening remarks.

However, the dazzling opening ceremony, which charted both the heritage and present-day experience of India, went smoothly.

Dominating the stadium was the "aerostat" - the world's largest helium-filled balloon - from which eight gigantic puppets clad in Indian costume were at one stage suspended, moving in time to the sound of hundreds of drummers on the stadium floor.

Outside the stadium, about 100,000 police and paramilitary officers were mobilised in the capital to protect the athletes, officials and spectators, while military helicopters flew overhead. Shops and businesses were to stay closed for the day.

With more than 7000 athletes and team officials, this year's Games will be the largest in Commonwealth history.

It has become the most expensive Commonwealth Games so far, with estimates ranging up to more than $US10 billion, the BBC reports.

In a reminder of some of the problems surrounding the event, it was revealed that Indian lawn bowler Ruptu Gogoi had been taken to hospital with dengue fever. More than 1,000 cases of the mosquito-borne viral disease, including three deaths, have been reported in the city since June.