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India battles to save scandal-hit Commonwealth Games

Last updated on: September 23, 2010 08:36 IST

'Venues unfit for human habitation'

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India scrambled against the clock to save the Commonwealth Games after big ticket athletes quit the showcase event and nations threatened to stay home unless authorities cleaned venues "unfit for human habitation".

Scotland delayed its departure to New Delhi and Wales gave organisers until later on Wednesday to guarantee that the venues and athletes' village are safe. The New Zealand swimming team is seeking a "Plan B" should the event be cancelled.

Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennell, who said the two-week event suffered from filthy conditions, will arrive on Thursday for a probable meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.


Image: A crane removes waste from a collapsed pedestrian bridge outside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi
Photographs: Reuters
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Games have descended into a farce

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In the next few days thousands of athletes will start arriving for the Octber 3 start.

India had hoped to use the $6 billion Games, held every four years for members of the former British Empire, as a display of its growing global economic and political clout rivalling China.

Instead, the Games have descended into farce with some countries giving organisers an ultimatum of a few days to get everything ready or face the prospect of national withdrawals from an event which is so far only showcasing Indian traveller-tale cliches of filth, chaos and corruption.


Image: A sweeper sweeps outside the Talkatora Boxing Stadium in New Delhi

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'Accommodation blocks far from finished'

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"Officials found that building works had fallen seriously behind schedule and that its allocated accommodation blocks were far from finished and in their view, unsafe and unfit for human habitation," Team Scotland said in a statement.

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 injured 27 workers, highlighting the problems facing organisers as they race to complete work.

Nobody was injured at the weightlifting venue.


Image: Workers climb down the roof of the weightlifting venue for the Commonwealth Games. A portion of the false ceiling at the venue caved in on Wednesday

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'Games Village not fit to receive 6,500 athletes and officials'

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"There have been dogs roaming around the village, the apartments are filthy, there are piles of rubble and right now it's not fit to receive 6,500 athletes and officials," Michael Cavanagh, chairman of Commonwealth Games Scotland, told the BBC.

"National Shame" was the headline in one Indian newspaper.

New Zealand's swimming team left on Wednesday for Abu Dhabi, with an official saying another competition was in the pipeline if the Games are cancelled. Australian and Canadian squads are in Singapore and the British in Doha, suggesting another Asian meet could be hastily organised.


Image: The Commonwealth Games village

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Govt officials say problems are minor

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There have been reports of stray dogs, stagnant water, workers urinating in public, and human faeces being found at the unfinished village where the athletes will live.

Stagnant pools of water, breeding grounds for dengue mosquitoes, lie around and a Reuters reporter said homeless people were living outside the main stadium.

Indian government officials say the problems, including the roof collapse on Wednesday, are mostly minor glitches and the Games will be a success.


Image: Workers clean a billboard outside the Commonwealth Games athletes village in New Delhi

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Country's leadership seems out-of-touch

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But criticism is mounting even within India, where the country's leadership is seen as out-of-touch and having failed to understand what is expected of a nation which is not short of funds, nor skilled labour to host a major sporting event.

It also highlights concerns about how India will effectively spend some $1.5 trillion on infrastructure over the next decade which is fundamental to managing fast economic growth and a growing population of 1.2 billion.


Image: Volunteers wait in line as they wait to be checked at a security checkpoint before entering the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium complex in New Delhi

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'My safety more important than medal'

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World discus champion Dani Samuels of Australia 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 for various reasons, including injuries, in the last 24 hours.

"Sorry people, but I have children to think about. My safety is more important to them than a medal," Idowu wrote on his Twitter feed.

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


Image: Dani Samuels

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Residents fleeing Delhi for security reasons

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An epidemic of Dengue, in part blamed on stagnant water around unfinished construction sites, has hit Delhi and thousands of people are being treated in hospital.

Many residents are fleeing Delhi during the Games, worried about security and traffic chaos.

Only days after two foreign visitors were shot and wounded by unknown assailants in Delhi, Australian TV broadcast how a reporter bought bomb making devices to smuggle through security points. Indian police denied he ever crossed a checkpoint.

Highlighting how the Games has become a political minefield for a government already reeling under high inflation, officials from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's office toured the village.


Image: Municipal Corporation of Delhi workers sit on a pavement outside the Commonwealth Games village in New Delhi

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'PM is extremely concerned'

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"The prime minister is of course extremely concerned," Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar, who is overseeing the preparations, told CNN-IBN.

So far 77-year-old Singh, who took charge of monitoring the preparations a month ago after criticism of missed deadlines, has remained silent, underscoring what critics say is his out-of-touch leadership.

Sporting power Australia backed the Commonwealth Games on Wednesday and many venues, including the main Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, have been praised as world-class.

Officials note that other events, such as the 2004 Athens Olympics, were dogged by problems but turned out fine.

However, Canada's Games team said it might delay the arrival of some of its athletes if adequate accommodation was not available.


Image: The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium

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'Our standards of cleanliness may differ'

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New Zealand Olympic Committee officials have arrived in Delhi to inspect facilities and security.

"I think if the Commonwealth Games didn't go ahead, that could have significant implications for the future of the Commonwealth Games, and that's not something we'd like to see," New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told reporters.

Indian officials defended their record.

"Please try to understand ... They want certain standards of hygiene, they want certain standards of cleanliness, which may differ from my standard," said Lalit Bhanot, spokesman of the Delhi organising committee.


Image: Labourers work inside the Major Dhyan Chand National hockey stadium

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