<i>The whiff of scandals have failed to dampen Melbourne's welcome, says Frank Malley...</i>

As the big cheeses gathered for the opening of the Commonwealth Games the talk was about anything but sport.

There were allegations of sexual assault, probes into drug trafficking and paranoia surrounding the opening ceremony, aided and abetted by workers at the Melbourne Cricket Ground who apparently painted a message for a snooping television helicopter crew this week. "**** off," it proclaimed with typical Aussie pithiness, albeit without the asterisks.

Disturbingly the first question at the first official press briefing of the Games was addressed to Victoria police commissioner Christine Nixon and requested details of an alleged sex attack on a 16-year-old cleaner by an official of a major team at the Olympic village.

The alleged offender's passport has been confiscated while investigations continue.

That issue was followed by the first drugs controversy of the Games surrounding Australian weightlifter Belinda Van Tienen, an alleged sports drugs trafficker who was secretly cleared by an Australian Weightlifting Federation inquiry but who some believe should not be allowed to compete for the host country.

There has been politics, too, when the Queen's Baton relay, which has travelled some 120,000 miles, was hijacked on its final furlong by a silent protest against capital punishment.

Not exactly the publicity for which Melbourne 2006 had hoped before an estimated one billion people tune in to the opening ceremony on television this morning.

In truth, however, we have been here before.

One of the facts of modern sport is that the weeks before big events are liberally laced with cynicism.

Days before the Sydney 2000 Olympics doom-mongers predicted a disaster, yet the best sporting festival the world has witnessed was delivered.

We heard the screech of the cynics before the Commonwealth Games in 2002 and Manchester responded in the most heart-warming fashion.

Again, only weeks before the most recent Olympics in Athens a switch to Sydney was advocated so belated were the preparations.

Result? An event rich in memories despite the drugs scandal involving Greek sprinters Katerina Thanou and Kostas Kenteris just hours before the Olympic flame was lit.

Until now, the bitching here has come, in the main, from Melbourne taxi drivers, upset at being banned from road lanes reserved for transport ferrying Games competitors and officials, and from those who believe the concept of the 'Friendly Games' is on its last legs.

Too few great nations compete, they argue. Too many Commonwealth athletes pull out, putting cash before patriotism. It is difficult to disagree.

Not when the swimming pool will be missing its biggest star, Australia's Ian Thorpe, through illness, and Grant Hackett, who decided on shoulder surgery now rather than risk missing more lucrative events in the future.

And then there is, or rather there isn't, Paula Radcliffe, who gave up the chance of track medals in Melbourne after stepping on a stone but continues to train for the London marathon next month.

The fact that she would not have earned a penny in Melbourne but stands to pick up £160,000 for reaching the starting line in London and a whole lot more if she crosses the finish line first in a record time, of course, had nothing to do with it. Not much.

It gave a lie to the optimistic claim of Justin Madden, Minister for the Commonwealth Games, that the world's best athletes were in Melbourne.

Some of them are. Mozambique's Maria Mutola, without the threat of the retired Kelly Holmes, should romp away with the women's 800m. Asafa Powell, the fastest man on Earth, lends the 100m a fascination which might attract even the odd American glance.

And Australia's swimmers, even without the 'Thorpedo', have Liesel Jones and Libby Lenton to send the records tumbling.

Still, sports-mad Australians would fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch two flies walk up a wall, wouldn't they?

Not quite. The flies would need to possess world class credentials as well as offering a real contest. Australians do not appreciate mediocrity.

The hope is that come Thursday, when the competition actually begins, the Games will gain momentum and deliver quality even if a classic English compromise has been reached over whether to play the British National Anthem or Advance Australia Fair in front of the Queen .

Both will now be aired. Two for the price of one, you might say, although hardly a bargain considering top tickets for the ceremony cost £350.