Two more Australian athletes withdrew today and a South African competitor reportedly found a snake in his room as complaints over cleanliness, security and construction continued to dog the troubled Commonwealth Games a week before the sporting event opens in New Delhi.
While international sports officials have said the situation had improved dramatically in the athletes’ village over the past couple of days – after inspections last week turned up rooms spattered with chewing tobacco and human excrement – some teams said the situation remained grim.
Tuelo Serufho, head of the Botswana contingent, told Press Trust of India his team’s rooms in the village were “unliveable for our athletes”, with filthy bedsheets, bathroom fixtures that did not work and construction debris yet to be cleared away.
“Our athletes will be here by Tuesday,” he said, warning they would have to check into hotels if the rooms were not ready by then.
The games, held every four years, bring together nearly 7,000 athletes and officials from 71 countries and territories across the former British empire.
The games were meant to be a coming-out party for India to cement its reputation as a growing regional power.
Instead, its image has been battered by negative publicity about its frantic last-minute efforts to get ready for an event it knew it was hosting seven years ago. The games open on October 3.
Last week, a pedestrian bridge leading to the main stadium collapsed, and adding to the organisers’ woes, two tourists were shot and wounded outside one of New Delhi’s top attractions.
That led to talk of postponing or cancelling the games. But those discussions dissipated after the government poured enormous resources into addressing the problems, particularly with the long-overdue athletes’ village.
The village opened as scheduled on Thursday although some teams delayed their arrival because of concerns that the accommodation was not yet ready.
Among the problems to surface this weekend: a snake found in the room of a South African athlete in the village.
“We have very grave concerns,” South African High Commissioner Harris Mbulelo told the Press Trust of India news agency. “If snakes are found we can’t ask our teams to stay there.”
It was not immediately clear if the snake was poisonous.
The athletes’ village is built on the banks of the Yamuna River, which is swollen from monsoon rains. Heavy rains often force snakes into residential areas.
Complaints also came from Indian competitors.
Boxer Akhil Kumar, who won gold for India in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, said he was disappointed with his accommodation. “When I sat down on my bed to take a rest, it collapsed,” Kumar was quoted as saying by the Times of India newspaper.
Today, Australian cyclist Travis Meyer and table tennis player Stephanie Sang announced they would pull out of the competition, following a string of other athletes who have decided to stay away, either because of health and security concerns or injuries.
Australian Commonwealth Games chief Perry Crosswhite said he was disappointed with the withdrawals, but respected the athletes’ decisions.
The English team, meanwhile, which had checked into hotels last week because of the filthy conditions, said they would begin moving into the athletes’ village today.
A team statement said support staff would be the first occupants “to ensure that conditions continue to be on track” for the athletes, who move in tomorrow.
“It’s exciting but also a relief to be able to occupy our accommodation,” team leader Craig Hunter said. “It has been a challenging experience but one which will make us stronger as we strive to be successful now on the field of play.”