New Delhi games on a 'knife edge'

Prime Minister Singh convenes high-level meeting as growing list of nations delay their travel to Indian capital.

    Several athletes have pulled out of the Commonwealth Games amid concerns over security and hygiene [EPA]

    The spectre of a mass pullout by teams looms as the organisers of the Commonwealth Games work frantically to stage the New Delhi event, with just 10 days to go.

    Eight countries have written a joint letter to the Indian organisers demanding a list of conditions covering security and hygiene be met or they will refuse to compete, the BBC reported on Thursday, without naming the nations.

    Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, convened a meeting of leading ministers involved in the organisation of the Games.

    Jaipal Reddy, the urban development minister, and MS Gill, the sports minister, were called to Singh's residence on Thursday, a senior official in his office said.

    "The Commonwealth Games is the only point of discussion on the agenda."

    The same day, Michael Fennell, the head of the Commonwealth Games Federation, who has described the venue as "seriously compromised", was also due to hold crisis talks with Singh.

    'Tremendously disappointing' 

    Despite the Indian assurances, several world-class athletes have already pulled out of the October 3-14 event, and on Thursday New Zealand joined other nations including Canada and Scotland in delaying its team's departure.

    "It's tremendously disappointing," Mike Stanley, New Zealand's games chief, said in a statement.

    "The long list of outstanding issues has made it clear the village will now not be ready for New Zealand athletes to move in as planned."

    Games at a glance

     It is the 19th Commonwealth Games.
     To be held between October 3 and 14.
     The Games village will host over 6,500 athletes from 71 nations.
     Total of 260 events in 17 sporting disciplines over 12 days.
     About 30,000 volunteers to assist.
     The games will cost an estimated $3bn (according to media reports).  Commonwealth nations make up 1.8 billion people, accounting for one-third of the world's population.

    The village has been described by various delegations as "filthy" and "unfit for human habitation".

    Prerna Suri, Al Jazeera's correspondent reporting from New Delhi, said on the day the athletes were due to arrive, there was still a lot of construction going on.

    "Passing the stadium today I saw people constructing pavements and even planting saplings," she said.

    "I also saw a lot of bridges that were still not complete. We are hearing reports that 16 of the 34 towers athletes will be staying in are not ready."

    To add to the organisers' woes, a footbridge by the main stadium collapsed on Tuesday injuring 27 workers and, on Wednesday, part of a false ceiling in the weightlifting venue caved in.

    Andrew Pipe, the president of Canada's games delegation, launched a fierce attack on the Indian organisers.

    "Their indifference at times has seemed to border on the intransigent to us, and that's just unacceptable," he said.

    Months of warnings to the organisers "have fallen on deaf ears", he said.

    Security warning

    Out of the 71 countries taking part, New Zealand, Scotland and Canada have all delayed their arrivals.

    Australia may delay sending its teams and also plans to send a high level police force to protect its athletes. However teams from England, Wales and South Africa are arriving as planned.

    Mike Byrne, the head of New Zealand's swimming contingent, said his team was mulling taking part in an alternative swimming meet "if the unthinkable happens and the games are cancelled".

    Australia's swimming team also said it had looked into alternatives if the Games in India were scrapped, but insisted it still planned to travel to New Delhi.

    The announcement came as Julia Gillard, Australia's prime minister, repeated a warning on Thursday of a "high risk of terror attacks" at the Games.

    She said Australia planned to "boost the number of officials" deployed by Australia in New Delhi. She did not elaborate when asked if these were security or intelligence officials.

    The first 22 competitors from England were due to fly to New Delhi on schedule on Thursday night, the country's federation confirmed.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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