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Queen arrives in Australia ahead of Games opening

Written by: Staff

MELBOURNE, Mar 12 (Reuters) Queen Elizabeth arrived in Australia today as organisers and athletes were busily putting the finishing touches to their preparations for the 18th Commonwealth Games.

The Queen was greeted by the Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Canberra on the first leg of her five-day Australian tour that will culminate with her opening the Games at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday.

Most of the 4,500 athletes from 53 countries and 71 competing associations have already arrived in the Victorian state capital, with the rest expected to trickle in over the next few days as Games fever starts sweeping the city.

''We are ready, everyone's excited and we look forward to the opening ceremony,'' Games Minister Justin Madden told a news conference on Sunday.

GREAT AURA Critics of the Commonwealth Games have dismissed the multi-sports event as an outdated relic of the British Empire but the mood among the athletes could not be more upbeat.

''There is a great aura about the Commonwealth Games,'' the Australian head swim coach Alan Thompson said.

''The Olympics is number one but the Commonwealth Games is huge for Australia.

''These guys want this so badly, and you can see the disappointment of those who didn't make the team.'' Irish middle-distance runner Sonia O'Sullivan was cleared on Sunday to compete for Australia despite a decision to close a loophole in eligibility rules.

Athletes normally have to wait three years before they can compete for another country but organisers agreed that O'Sullivan, who was granted Australian citizenship in January, could compete because the Commonwealth Games were not covered by the rule.

The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) general assembly today voted to close the loophole but said it would be unfair to apply it in O'Sullivan's case because team selections had already been made.

''The general assembly felt it was a significant anomaly in certain events,'' CGF chief executive officer Mike Hooper told a media conference.

''As a matter of procedural fairness, as the athletes were duly selected, it comes into effect after the closing ceremonies in Melbourne.'' REUTERS PM PM1256

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