Billed as a showcase for India’s newfound wealth, the Games appear to have highlighted the country’s problems instead.
|Authorities are still working on completing venues in New Delhi, nine days before the start of the Games [AFP]|
The Commonwealth Games should never have been awarded to India, Australia’s Olympic chief has said, pouring more fuel to a controversy sparked by chaotic planning and execution of the event.
John Coates’ remarks come as Indian authorities struggle to complete venues, forcing some teams to take up temporary accommodation at hotels.
“I don’t think it is a cultural thing. When you agree to host [the Games], you are required to provide the basics in terms of health and hygiene for the athletes,” Coates said on Friday.
“The Games shouldn’t have been awarded to Delhi in hindsight.”
Athletes have complained about dirty accommodation, shoddy construction and security fears.
A portion of false ceiling in the weightlifting venue caved in on Wednesday, a day after the collapse of a footbridge at the main stadium, injuring 27 workers. In another incident, armed men shot and wounded two foreign visitors near a historic mosque in Delhi on Sunday in a suspected terrorist attack.
Scheduled to begin on October 3, the event is expected to cost Indian taxpayers close to $6bn.
Boost for organisers
In what could be the first encouraging signs for the Indian organisers, two senior international sports officials declared on Friday that conditions at the Games’ village had greatly improved, though they said clean-up work should continue urgently.
The same day, the first foreign athletes – the English hockey and lawn bowling teams – arrived in New Delhi. However, they planned to stay in hotels for a few days before moving to the village, where thousands of cleaners have been pressed into urgent action.
“Everybody is very excited and wants to get into action and get going really,” Caroline Searle, a spokesperson for the England Commonwealth Games organising body, said.
Some of the athletes later toured the village to assess the conditions there.
“The flats are spacious, which is good for a major games, but there are bits and pieces to be done to bring them up to standard,” Ben Middleton, an English hockey player, said in a statement.
“A couple of days will make a difference.
Also, after holding its team back because of the problems, New Zealand decided to attend the games.
Meanwhile, Mike Fennell, the Commonwealth Games Federation head, toured the athletes’ village and met senior officials from participating countries. He was also due to meet KM Chandrasekhar, the most senior aide to the Indian prime minister.
Fennel’s staff informed him that “considerable improvements have been made within the village”, he said in a statement.
“It is vital that all remedial work that has already started continues with the greatest urgency.”
For his part, Perry Crosswhite, the head of Australia’s Commonwealth Games Association, said: “I am very pleased with the village as of now.”
Kenya said it would send a 240-strong team after receiving security assurances from India, officials said, though several of its star athletes have withdrawn because of illness or fatigue. Wales also gave its team the all-clear to go.
On the downside, several UK athletes have pulled out over concerns about health and security, including Phillips Idowu, the triple jump world champion, and Christine Ohuruogu, the Olympic 400 metres gold medallist.
Greg Henderson became the first New Zealand athlete on Friday to withdraw over concerns about health and security.
Geraint Thomas, the Olympic cycling champion, and three other Welsh riders has also opted out of the Games.
The New Zealand, Canada and Scotland teams have decided to delay their arrivals.
Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, reviewed on Thursday the preparations with senior ministers, an official in his office said.
Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the Delhi organising committee, said no team would pull out. “I can assure you that security is well in place. Now if some people have their own conception [of security], I can’t help,” he said.
But in a sign of desperation, his committee was asked to hand over management of the Games village, which will house 6,500 athletes, to the government.
“There has been a mixed reaction about the Games. Many are embarrassed, others think India will still be able to pull it off,” Al Jazeera’s Prerna Suri reported from New Delhi.
“There is an army of cleaners at work in the athletes’ village and sprays [against dengue fever] are being used all across the area.”
Many sporting events have hit trouble before opening, such as the 2004 Athens Olympics, and some of Delhi’s infrastructure projects, including a new metro and airport, have won praise.
But polls in the local media show that a vast majority of Indians are ashamed of the Commonwealth Games mismanagement.