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

By Ravi Nessman, AP
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Commonwealth Games chief rushing to New Delhi

NEW DELHI — The head of the Commonwealth Games rushed to New Delhi on Wednesday for emergency talks with top Indian officials amid widespread anger over the country’s frenzied last-minute preparations for the event, due to start in little more than a week.

Commonwealth Games Federation President Mike Fennell was to arrive here Thursday and had requested a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, federation chief executive Mike Hooper told The Associated Press.

Fennell’s arrival came as organizers struggle to cope with unfinished buildings, a filthy athletes’ village — where excrement was found in some rooms — a bridge collapse, an outbreak of dengue fever and numerous other problems.

On Wednesday, part of a drop ceiling inside the weightlifting venue collapsed, government officials said.

The Games, which bring together more than 7,000 athletes from the 71 countries and territories from the former British empire every four years, was supposed to showcase India as an emerging power in the international community. Instead, it has become a major embarrassment.

Athletes were due to arrive beginning Thursday in the games village — which international sports officials have called unfinished, dirty, hobbled by numerous infrastructure problems and even “unsafe and unfit for human habitation.”

“It’s just filthy. … It hasn’t been cleaned,” said Hooper.

Scotland’s team announced Wednesday it would delay its travel to New Delhi.

He said the problems had prompted Fennell to rush to New Delhi far earlier than he had come to previous games. His emergency trip “emphasizes that this is an important issue and we obviously need to engage at the highest level to get it fixed,” Hooper said.

New Delhi has been a frenzy of activity in recent weeks, as the city struggles to ready itself for the Games, which begin Oct. 3. The city has had seven years to prepare, though very little work was done until 2008.

On Tuesday, hours after games officials blasted the organizers for the condition of the athletes’ village, a 90-yeard (-meter) pedestrian bridge leading from a parking lot to the games’ main stadium collapsed, injuring 27 construction workers, five critically.

“I’ve never come across this before,” Hooper said of the last-minute preparations. “It’s very frustrating to see the delays and the fact that we’ve had to come right down to the wire.”

“We’ve been complaining about the delivery of the venues for nearly two years, and the constant delays,” he said.

The Indian media blasted its officials for the turmoil — “C’wealth Games India’s Shame,” The Times of India newspaper said Tuesday in a page-one headline.

But officials continued to downplay the problems, a position that international sports officials say defies reality.

“We are absolutely prepared,” Cabinet Secretary K. M. Chandrasekhar, told CNN-IBN television Wednesday.

Speaking of the state of the athletes’ village, Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy told CNN-IBN: “Athletes and guests should not bother about such small matters,” and insisted it would be immaculate when the events begin.

Referring to the collapsed pedestrian bridge, 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.” Dikshit is the equivalent of the city’s mayor.

The athletes’ village is due to open Thursday, when the first competitors are to arrive in preparation for the Games.

In addition to shoddy conditions inside and outside the buildings, there also are problems with plumbing, wiring, furnishings, Internet access and cell phone coverage.

Hooper also confirmed reports of excrement found 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.”

Scotland team’s, the first batch of which was set to leave Thursday, delayed its departure for the games, saying it wants to give organizers time to prepare accommodation and solve the growing number of problems. Commonwealth Games Scotland chairman Michael Cavanagh said that would be put off for “a few days”

Australian discus world champion Dani Samuels and England’s world champion triple jumper Phillips Idowu both withdrew from the games Tuesday, citing concerns over health and security.

Although no team has said it will pull out, New Zealand team manager Dave Currie had some of the strongest words for organizers.

“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 weeks, with widespread accusations of corruption and mismanagement. Organizers were also struggling to cope with 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.

AP writers C. Rajshekhar Rao and Tim Sullivan contributed to this report.

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