Games chief flies in for emergency talks

Games chief flies in for emergency talks

The head of the Commonwealth Games rushed to New Delhi for emergency talks today as a ceiling collapsed in one of the venues.

There has been widespread anger over India’s last-minute preparations for the event, due to start in little more than a week.

Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell has requested a meeting with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh.

Mr Fennell’s arrival comes as organisers 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.

Today, part of a ceiling inside the weightlifting venue collapsed.

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 begin arriving tomorrow 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”.

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

Federation chief executive Mike Hooper said: “It’s just filthy. It hasn’t been cleaned.”

He said the problems had prompted Mr Fennell to travel to New Delhi far earlier than he had to previous games.

His emergency trip “emphasises that this is an important issue and we obviously need to engage at the highest level to get it fixed”, said Mr Hooper.

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

Yesterday, hours after games officials criticised the organisers for the condition of the athletes’ village, a 90-yard pedestrian bridge leading from a car park to the games’ main stadium collapsed, injuring 27 construction workers, five critically.

Mr Hooper said of the last-minute preparations: “I’ve never come across this before. 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.”

The Indian media attacked officials for the turmoil. “C’wealth Games India’s Shame,” The Times of India newspaper said in a front-page headline.

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

Cabinet secretary K M Chandrasekhar said today: “We are absolutely prepared.”

Speaking of the state of the athletes’ village, urban development minister Jaipal Reddy said: “Athletes and guests should not bother about such small matters.”

He insisted it would be immaculate when the events begin.

Referring to the collapsed pedestrian bridge, New Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit said: “The accident is not as big as being made out to be. We are giving adequate compensation to those injured.”

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

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

Mr 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.

England chef de mission Craig Hunter said: “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.

“Athletes will start getting on planes soon and decisions will have to be made. We need new levels of reassurance.”

Scotland’s team delayed its departure for the games, saying it wants to give organisers time to prepare accommodation and solve the growing number of problems.

Commonwealth Games Scotland chairman Michael Cavanagh said travel 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 yesterday, 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 organisers.

“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,” Mr Currie said.

Security has been increased after gunmen wounded two tourists outside one of the city’s top tourist attractions on Sunday. An Islamic militant group took responsibility for the shooting.

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