India scrambles to save games as athletes pull out
Indian officials scrambled to salvage the rapidly approaching Commonwealth Games, as a growing number of competitors delayed their arrival to allow organisers time to finish their frantic preparations.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held an emergency meeting last night with his sports minister and other top officials to assess the state of preparations for the event, which is to start in little more than a week.
They did not give details on what was discussed. Delhi's lieutenant governor Tejinder Khanna said Mr Singh "was informed that every effort was being made to prepare the games facilities and the village to the expected standards".
Commonwealth Games organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi, whose organising team has been mired in corruption allegations, was not asked to attend the meeting.
The games were meant to showcase India's emergence as a regional powerhouse. But long delays in getting facilities ready and a list of scandals have turned them into an embarrassment.
A poll in the 'Hindustan Times' newspaper yesterday showed 68pc of surveyed New Delhi residents were ashamed of the games.
Organisers have struggled with an outbreak of dengue fever, the collapse of a footbridge leading to the main stadium and security fears after the Sunday shooting of two tourists outside one of the city's top attractions. A Muslim militant group took responsibility for the shooting.
Since concerns over the athletes' village -- including excrement in rooms and problems with plumbing, wiring and furnishings -- were raised earlier this week, India has committed major resources to cleaning it up, with Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit taking charge of the operation, the games' chief executive, Mike Hooper said.
The village, which is meant to house more than 7,000 athletes and officials, opened yesterday, with 138 Indian athletes and sports officials moving in, organisers said.
But many national delegations remained concerned.
The New Zealand team announced yesterday it was joining Scotland and Canada in delaying its arrival in New Delhi because of the poor condition of accommodation. England and Australia have also expressed concern about the village.
The Australian government yesterday said it was sending experts to assess hygienic conditions in the village and had upgraded its travel advice to alert tourists to possible construction "deficiencies" after the bridge collapsed and part of a ceiling at a venue caved in.
Commonwealth Games federation president Mike Fennell arrived in India late yesterday on an emergency visit and planned to meet with top Indian officials today.
So far, four athletes -- including three world champions -- have said they won't attend because of health or safety concerns, but no national teams have pulled out.
New Delhi has been a frenzy of activity in recent weeks, as the city struggles to ready itself for the games, which are to begin on October 3.