Commonwealth Games official: Games’ chief rushing to Delhi for emergency visit amid problems

By C. Rajshekhar Rao, AP
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Commonwealth Games chief rushing to New Delhi

NEW DELHI — Commonwealth Games Federation chief Mike Fennell is rushing to New Delhi on an emergency visit amid widespread anger over India’s frenzied last-minute preparations for the event which is due to open a week from Sunday.

Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive Mike Hooper told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Fennell would arrive Thursday and had requested a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Fennell’s arrival comes as organizers struggle to cope with unfinished buildings, a filthy athletes’ village, a bridge collapse near the main stadium and numerous other problems.

But even as star athletes withdrew and doubts over the staging of the Commonwealth Games gathered momentum, Indian officials were attempting to play down concerns as an international overreaction.

“Athletes and guests should not bother about such small matters,” Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy told CNN-IBN television about the unclean accommodations, insisting that the Commonwealth Games village would be immaculate by the time events begin Oct. 3.

Officials from some delegations have already moved into the village, which is due to open to athletes from 71 countries by Friday.

As to the collapse of the 90-meter pedestrian bridge — which injured 23 construction workers, five critically — New Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit told reporters: “The accident is not as big as being made out to be. We are giving adequate compensation to those injured.”

The pedestrian bridge, which was still under construction, lead from a parking lot to the games’ main stadium.

Dikshit is the equivalent of the city’s mayor.

The Games, which bring together more than 7,000 athletes and officials from all over the British Commonwealth every four years, was supposed to showcase India’s emerging power in the international community. Instead, it is becoming an embarrassment, highlighting the many problems that the country is still struggling to control.

“C’wealth Games India’s Shame,” The Times of India newspaper reported Wednesday in a screaming headline.

Fennell on Tuesday had written to the Indian government, urging it to finish the athletes’ village. In addition to shoddy conditions inside and outside the buildings, there also are problems with plumbing, wiring, furnishings, Internet access and cell phone coverage.

New Zealand officials complained that there was excrement in many of the rooms, plumbing wasn’t working, and that there were no handrails around balconies or stairwells.

“They have to come up with a clear plan to meet the needs of athletes and show they can provide consistent standards,” Hooper told AP.

Hooper confirmed reports of excrement found in rooms in the village.

The games have historically been dominated by England, Australia and Canada, and all three have voiced concerns about the conditions in India.

“It’s hard to cancel an event of this magnitude, but we are close to the wire, and teams may start to take things into their own hands,” England chef de mission Craig Hunter told Britain’s Press Association. “Athletes will start getting on planes soon and decisions will have to be made. We need new levels of reassurance.”

Australian discuss world champion Dani Samuels withdrew from the games Tuesday, citing concerns over health and security, according to her manager, Hayden Knowles.

England’s world champion triple jumper Phillips Idowu also pulled out, saying in a Twitter message that: “I can’t afford to risk my safety in the slightest. Sorry people, but I have children to think about. My safety is more important to them than a medal.”

Australia’s 1990 Commonwealth Games gold medalist Jane Flemming expected more athletes to withdraw.

“The fact that someone of Dani’s stature (has withdrawn) I’m sure is making a whole lot of others question their attendance,” Flemming told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “It would not surprise me if we now see a whole flux of withdrawals.”

Although no country has said it will pull out, New Zealand team manager Dave Currie delivered a foreboding message in a radio interview.

“If the village is not ready and athletes can’t come, obviously the implications of that are that (the event) is not going to happen,” Currie told New Zealand radio network newstalkZB.

Criticism of the games have become increasingly vocal in recent two weeks, with widespread accusations of corruption and mismanagement. Organizers were also struggling to cope with unfinished buildings, the filthy athletes’ village, an outbreak of dengue fever and security worries.

Security has been increased after unidentified gunmen wounded two tourists Sunday outside one of the city’s top tourist attractions. An Islamic militant group took responsibility for the shooting.

New Delhi, India’s capital and home to more than 12 million people, was chosen to host the 19th edition of the Commonwealth Games in November 2003. But between then and 2008, the country did little to prepare.

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