India's dream of the Commonwealth Games as a showcase for its role as a growing world power suffered a series of hammer blows yesterday. A 100-metre footbridge under construction near the main stadium in Delhi collapsed, injuring 27 workers. Representatives from several countries sending teams to the Games said the athletes' village was uninhabitable, and their athletes could not move in. And a leading Australian athlete pulled out of the October 3-14 competition because of security fears after gunmen wounded two Taiwanese tourists outside a mosque in Delhi on Sunday.
Organisers scrambled to contain the damage, fearful that the litany of bad news could wreck an event already crippled by delays, allegations of corruption and concerns over safety. The collapsed bridge was being built to link a car park with the main Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, which will host the opening ceremony and athletics. Police sealed off the area and heavy-lifting equipment began shifting sections of the footbridge that fell down on to the car-park tarmac below.
The bridge collapse came as organisers were scrambling to cope with complaints about the Games village just two days before it is due to open officially to 7,000 athletes and officials from 71 countries. New Zealand, Canada, Scotland and Ireland described the accommodation as "filthy, unsafe and unfit for human habitation", and the New Zealand delegation said the village will not be ready this week. Only 18 of 34 residential blocks are ready. The New Zealand team manager David Currie, whose 300 athletes had to be given new accommodation, said he believed the whole event might be in danger.
"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," he said. Mike Hooper, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, led criticism of the athletes' residential towers, which will embarrass a Delhi government that has admitted the country's prestige is on the line. "They're filthy. You can't occupy them. They need a deep clean. There's builders' dust and rubble in doorways, shower doors the wrong way round, toilets that don't work," he said. There was also "excrement in places it shouldn't be", he said. Mr Hooper said the games federation had been assured by organisers that the situation would be rectified by last Sunday but that it had not been. He said he hoped the Indian government would intervene and "provide maximum resources before the Games begin". Michael Fennell, the president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, said yesterday that he had written to the Indian government urging immediate action because the athletes' village was in a "seriously compromised" condition. "The village is the cornerstone of any Games and the athletes deserve the best possible environment to prepare for their competition. The condition of the residential zone has shocked the majority of Games associations that are in Delhi," he said. Lalit Bhanot, secretary general of the organising committee, insisted: "The situation is under control. We are confident that when the teams arrive on the evening of September 23, the residential wing will be clean. "We have started work in the 32 towers and will complete it before the arrival of the athletes. We have developed a world-class village, with a great international zone, excellent sports facilities that are hardly provided in Games Villages elsewhere, and a superb dining hall. "The venues are in the best of condition to conduct the Games and the issues around the Village will not affect the Games." Security problems also have plagued the Games, particularly since Sunday's shooting. The Australian discus world champion Dani Samuels pulled out yesterday because of security and health concerns, her coach said. "Dani is extremely distressed about it all," Hayden Knowles said. "The situation in Delhi has been bothering her for some time, but the events over the weekend made it real." Although several of the sporting venues are considered world class, the costs of staging the Games are nine times higher than the Indian government's original estimate of US$500 million (Dh1.83 billion) in 2003, leading the government's anti-corruption monitor to identify 16 projects with suspect financing. The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) found a host of problems with construction work in an investigation in July, including dubious contracts and the use of poor quality materials. The CVC's chief technical examiner inspected 15 sites around the capital and found a number of irregularities and suspect practices by contractors and public bodies. firstname.lastname@example.org * with additional reporting by the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse