Bridge collapse, construction delays put next month’s Commonwealth Games in jeopardy

By C. Rajshekhar Rao, AP
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Commonwealth Games in doubt after bridge collapse

NEW DELHI — A footbridge being built near the main stadium for the Commonwealth Games collapsed Tuesday, injuring 23 construction workers and putting the event in further jeopardy less than two weeks before the opening ceremony.

The accident was the latest setback to New Delhi’s troubled preparations for the games, which bring together more than 7,000 athletes and officials from the 71 countries and territories in the commonwealth every four years.

Of the 23 workers who were hurt, five were seriously injured and taken to hospitals after the collapse of the footbridge, said police officer H.G.S. Dhaliwal.

The bridge connects the JawaHarlal Nehru Stadium — the site of the opening and closing ceremonies and the track and field competition for the Oct. 3-14 games — with a parking lot.

Earlier in the day, Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennell contacted the Indian government and urged them to finish work on the athletes’ village, which many have called “unlivable.”

“Many nations that have already sent their advanced parties to set up within the village have made it abundantly clear that, as of the afternoon of September 20th, the Commonwealth Games Village is seriously compromised,” Fennell said in a statement. “The CGF has asked the Cabinet Secretary to immediately deploy the necessary resources to fix all the outstanding issues to an acceptable level.”

The athletes’ village is due to open Thursday. The Times of India reported that only 18 of 34 residential towers at the village are complete.

New Zealand team manager Dave Currie, speaking before the bridge collapse, said the games may not go ahead.

“In the time frame that is left, unless there is tremendous effort and energy and problem-solving ability to get it done, it’s going to be extremely hard to get across the line,” Currie told New Zealand radio network newstalkZB. “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 said New Zealand would consult with other countries before deciding on whether to participate.

“That’s not a decision that we’ll make (alone), but there are some realities,” he said.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said the areas of concern “aren’t insurmountable, although there are real concerns about whether they can be achieved in the time frame.”

He added it was “unlikely that New Zealand would make a call that other countries weren’t prepared to make.”

The buildup to the Commonwealth Games has been plagued by construction problems, causing concern over the safety and quality of the buildings and speculation about corruption in awarding of contracts and structural compliance certificates.

Those construction delays have been overshadowed more recently by safety concerns, heightened over the weekend after two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and wounded two tourists near the Jama Masjid, one of India’s biggest mosques.

Other countries also voiced concern about conditions in the athletes’ village.

Commonwealth Games Scotland said the area allocated to the team was “unsafe and unfit for human habitation,” while Commonwealth Games England said “there is a lot to be done in the village and this needs to be done with some urgency so that it is ready for the arrival of our first athletes on Friday.”

Australia’s chef de mission, retired marathon runner Steve Moneghetti, said Indian organizers “have got two days to do what’s probably going to take about two weeks.”

Fennell said advance parties from the international Commonwealth Games Associations had been impressed with the international zone and main dining area in the village, but the condition of the residential zone shocked most of them.

“Despite (the CGAs) attempts to work with the organizing committee in a constructive manner since arriving on Sept. 15, significant operational matters remain unaddressed,” Fennell said. “The problems are arising because deadlines for the completion of the village have been consistently pushed out. Now, the high security around the site, while vital, is slowing progress and complicating solutions.”

CGF chief executive Mike Hooper said organizers had not lived up to their promises.

“The conditions continued to be appalling and so we felt the matter needed to be elevated. That is why our chairman spoke to top Indian government officials,” Hooper said. “Organizing committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi now tells me that the Cabinet secretary took a round of the village and assured that everything possible would be done.”

Newspaper reports of human excrement around the village were true, Hooper said, but organizing committee secretary general Lalit Bhanot said the situation at the village was normal.

“All games face such problems and they will be resolved before the athletes come in,” Bhanot said. “These are not going to affect the games in any way as all venues are ready to host the games.”

AP Sports Writer Steve McMorran in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to this report.

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