Commonwealth Games

Clock ticks down on Delhi

2010-09-28 12:56
Commonwealth Games (File)
New Delhi - The clock ticked down on the Delhi Commonwealth Games Tuesday with signs that conditions in the much-criticised athletes' village were finally improving as hundreds of competitors arrived.

Australia, one of the countries that had slammed the village last week, said organisers were working hard to improve the state of facilities just five days before the start of the event.

"It's pretty good," Lynsey Armitage, a member of the Australian lawn bowls team, told reporters. "I've been here for the last two days. I feel completely safe and secure."

South Africa too said the first contingent from its 150-strong squad moved into the village on Tuesday after the residential zone was passed as fit by the team leader.

"The athletes are very happy with the reception they've got so far," spokesperson Mark Keohane said, referring to the first batch of competitors who arrived on Monday and spent their first night in a hotel.

Delhi authorities on Tuesday said they would deploy a contingent of trained langurs - a large type of monkey - to help chase away smaller simians that invade venues.

The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) has a regular team of 28 langurs, and 10 more have been brought in from the neighbouring state of Rajasthan. They will be used at the boxing and hockey stadiums and at the swimming pool.

There was possibly more bad news for the athletics competition, which has already been hit by pull-outs and no-shows from the biggest crowd-pullers such as Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.

Caster Semenya, the South African 800m world champion, was expected to lend some star-power to the Games' line-up, but her coach was quoted as saying on Monday that she was struggling with a back injury and was now a doubt.

The multi-sport event, which opens on Sunday, had teetered on the brink of collapse last week when some nations threatened to pull out amid worries about security, a bridge falling down, and the standard of accommodation and venues.

Problems plaguing the Games also include an outbreak of mosquito-borne dengue fever, and doubts about transport, fire and evacuation procedures and medical services.

An army of manual workers has been drafted in to tackle filthy apartments and builders' rubbish at the village.

Organisers have promised that all the accommodation will be finished by Wednesday and that full security is now in place to protect venues and participants.

Tens of thousands of paramilitary troops and police are deployed in India's capital carrying out armed foot patrols and manning bunkers amid a huge security operation the Games.

Since the devastating Mumbai attacks of 2008, when Pakistan-based Islamist militants killed 166 people in a 60-hour assault, India has been fearful that the even could be a high-profile target for attack.

With the opening ceremony looming, 17 000 paramilitary troopers are on duty reinforcing 80 000 city police.

Sharelle McMahon, a Commonwealth Games veteran who first competed in the 1998 Games in Kuala Lumpur, said she was surprised by the number of police armed with machine guns but was still optimistic about the event.

"It is certainly a different experience. We were really excited last night to arrive here," the 32-year-old captain of Australia's netball team said.

About 850 athletes and support staff arrived at the village on Tuesday, including large teams from Malaysia and Jamaica.

As many as 5 000 athletes from 72 nations and territories formerly belonging to the British Empire are expected to compete at the Games.

The event, often known as the "friendly games", includes teams from some of the world's smallest territories such as Norfolk Island, which sits in the Pacific Ocean 1 600km northeast of Sydney.

"Our whole island of 1 500 people could eat in the canteen together," Jo Snell, an archer from Norfolk Island, said.

"After a 40-hour journey we are finding the accommodation in the village comfortable and the training range is fantastic."

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