Doubts cast over October’s Commonwealth Games as footbridge collapse near stadium adds to preparation woes.
| Dani Samuels, the world discus champion, described her withdrawal as the “hardest decision of my life” [AFP]
Australia has warned that more athletes are likely to pull out of New Delhi’s Commonwealth Games over safety fears at the October 3-14 event.
Mark Arbib, the Australian sports minister, said on Wednesday that Games officials expected more competitors to follow Dani Samuels, the women’s world discus champion, who withdrew late on Tuesday over health and security worries, after two Taiwanese tourists were injured in a Delhi shooting three days earlier.
The tearful Samuels, calling it the “hardest decision of my life”, was swiftly followed by Phillips Idowu, England’s world triple jump champion, who said his safety was more important than a medal.
Idowu, 31, said he could not risk competing because he has two young children.
“Sorry people, but I have children to think about. My safety is more important to them than a medal,” Idowu tweeted.
Christine Ohuruogu, the English Olympic 400m champion, and 1500m runner, Lisa Dobriskey, also withdrew citing injuries, joining Jamaican superstars Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell.
Blow to organisers
Arbib said Perry Crosswhite, Australia’s Games chief, was expecting further pullouts, in a blow to organisers’ hopes that athletic prowess could overcome controversies including corruption and a “filthy” athletes village.
“He didn’t have any information about any other athletes but he thought there could be a number more who made that decision,” Arbib told Sky News.
|Games at a glance|
It is the 19th Commonwealth Games
On Wednesday, the Commonwealth Games team from the Channel Island of Jersey said it was considering delaying its departure to India until closer to the start of the games, citing problems with accommodation.
Jersey’s concerns were shared by teams from nearby Guernsey island, as well as Scotland on Wednesday, with both delaying their departure date.
In further bad news for organisers, a government official said a section of a false ceiling in the main stadium fell down on Wednesday.
“I have been informed about the ceiling collapse … it will be corrected now,” K M Chandrashekhar, the Indian cabinet secretary, told CNN-IBN news.
No one was hurt in the incident, but on Tuesday a footbridge being built at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, which will host the opening ceremony, collapsed injuring 27 labourers, four of them seriously.
Ambitions ‘too high’
Sundeep Misra, from Sports Illustrated India, told Al Jazeera that India set goals for the Games that were too high.
“The Commonwealth Games, all said and done, are not the World Championships, nor the Olympics, nor even the Asian Games,” he said.
“I think they [India] are trying to overdo it – to make this look bigger than it is.
“We have done it [hosted sporting events] in the past. There have never been security issues. The organising committee should come forward and, instead of trying to defend what they’re doing, they should say they will do whatever they can in the next 36 hours [to put the Games on track].”
Prerna Suri, Al Jazeera’s correspondent reporting from New Delhi, said Indian officials are still confident they can pull it off.
“Despite having evidence [of problems] in front of them [organisers] have been quite confident [the Games will be a huge success]; some would say they are in denial,” she said.
“They have had seven years to complete these Games but there is a lot more to be done before tomorrow’s deadline.
“We have heard about funds being embezzled. There seems to be no accountability or transparency. There is no ownership of the Games.”
On Tuesday, the Commonwealth Games Federation said the official athletes’ accommodation was “uninhabitable” with rubble in doorways and malfunctioning toilets, along with urgent electrical problems.
“The reality is that if the village is not ready and athletes can’t come, the implications are that it’s not going to happen,” Dave Currie, New Zealand’s team manager, said.
Thousands of workers have been labouring around the clock to finish sports facilities and the athletes’ village with less than a day left for the first contingent of competitors to arrive.
Building work for the games, expected to draw 7,000 athletes and officials from countries and territories mostly from the former British empire, has been severely delayed and doubts had already been raised about its quality.
However, Indian organisers have continuously rebuffed concerns over the event.
Lalit Bhanot, the official spokesman, said the athletes village was “probably one of the best ever”.
“Everyone has different standards about cleanliness. The Westerners have different standards, we have different standards,” he said.
India’s chief anti-corruption body found a host of problems with construction work in a July investigation, including dubious contracts and the use of poor quality materials.
Building delays have also allowed pools of rainwater to form at Games sites, causing an outbreak of the mosquito-borne dengue fever, which has killed four people in the Indian capital this year and stoked worry among athletes.
“I’m sure that there wouldn’t be a parent of an athlete in Australia that’s not concerned about their son or daughter going to the Games,” Denis Knowles, Samuels’ coach, told ABC, the Australian public broadcaster.
New Zealand’s team will decide later this week whether to pull out en masse, as officials assess security.