Commonwealth Games

Nations delay Games departure

2010-09-23 16:24
Commonwealth Games (logo)
New Delhi - More nations delayed departure for the Commonwealth Games in India as organisers raced against time on Thursday to address security and health concerns that have already prompted several top athletes to pull out.

New Zealand joined Canada and Scotland in delaying a decision due to poor accommodation for athletes at the New Delhi Games village, compounded by heavy monsoon rains and a dengue epidemic.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard highlighted security fears surrounding the Games and said athletes should decide for themselves whether or not to attend. Two foreign visitors were shot and wounded by suspected militants in the city on Sunday.

"There is obviously widespread concern about the Commonwealth Games," Gillard told reporters in Canberra.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was meeting key ministers during the day as he reviewed preparations, an official in his office said, in what was seen as a last-ditch effort to avoid national withdrawals.

But he was not scheduled to meet Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennell, who arrived in Delhi in the evening and had requested an emergency meeting.

Suresh Kalmadi, the chairman of the organising committee, said no team would pull out from the Games and no one should be worried about security.

"I can assure you that security is well in place. Now if some people have their own conception (of security), I can't help," he told reporters.

The Games, held every four years for members of the organisation of mostly former British colonies, are estimated to have cost $3-6bn.

India had hoped to use them to display its growing global economic and political clout, rivalling China.

Instead, they have snowballed into a major embarrassment for the government, having to fend off criticism of shoddy construction, inadequate security and unfit accommodation.

In a sign of desperation, the federal government ordered the organising committee to hand over management of the Games Village, which will house 6 500 athletes, to the government.

In contrast, preparations for the November's Asian Games in China, which held a hugely successful Summer Olympics in 2008, are on track, with organisers in Guangzhou handing the athletes' village over to the Asian Games authorities for sign-off earlier this week.

Pre-Games Glitches

Many sporting events have suffered glitches in the run-up to the opening ceremony, such as the 2004 Athens Olympics, and some infrastructure projects, like a new metro and international airport in Delhi, have been widely praised. But polls in Indian newspapers show that a vast majority of Indians are ashamed.

Singh has been accused of being out of touch and failing to recognise that events like the Games carry huge international prestige. Much of the Congress-led government remains focused on its rural vote.

"I genuinely feel sorry for what has happened and would like to apologise not only on my behalf and on behalf of the organising committee, but for everyone connected," A.K. Mattoo, Organising Committee Secretary General, told NDTV broadcaster.

"This is a collective failure."

Organisers have promised a prompt clean up. Teams start arriving this weekend for the October 3 official start and so far no one has said the Games will be cancelled or delayed.

New Zealand chef de mission Dave Currie said the organisers' failure to admit to problems had seen them lose the faith of competing countries.

"Every time we raised an issue (we received) 'yes that will be fixed tomorrow', but you know clearly that it won't be fixed tomorrow," he said. "And they weren't."

Athletes pull out

World discus champion Dani Samuels of Australia has pulled out of the Games because of security and health concerns, as did England's world triple jump champion Phillips Idowu. Four other champions have quit due to various reasons, including injuries.

Triple Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt of Jamaica is the highest profile athlete to skip the event.

A dengue epidemic has also spread through the Indian capital, sending thousands of people to hospital. Nevertheless Games organisers were upbeat.

"We had a meeting with all the chefs de missions today and they are all much happier than before," Kalmadi said. "Everything will be all right today."

Some officials blamed the athletes.

"They (athletes who compete in numerous competitions) may not be able to sustain their performance so they find out some reason or other why they are not participating, but these things happen in every game, every competition," Lalit Bhanot, secretary general of the organising committee, told CNN IBN.

Scotland and Canada had already announced they were delaying sending athletes to New Delhi and Wales said it had sought guarantees that venues and athletes' accommodation were safe.

Other nations have also threatened to stay home.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) told their athletes to delay their arrival until at least next Tuesday, just five days before the Games are due to open.

"It is tremendously disappointing," said NZOC President Mike Stanley in a statement. "The long list of outstanding issues has made it clear the village will now not be ready for New Zealand athletes to move in as planned."

Images of stray dogs, stagnant water, workers urinating in public and human faeces found at the unfinished athletes' village in central Delhi have overshadowed the successes of the Games -- the main stadium and other sporting venues.

A portion of false ceiling in the weightlifting venue caved in on Wednesday, a day after the collapse of a footbridge by the main stadium, injuring 27 workers.

The event has also been plagued by security concerns.

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