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English teams carefully optimistic on arrival in Delhi

The first foreign competitors arrived yesterday for the troubled Commonwealth Games, where frantic last-minute work by an army of cleaners was said to be paying off with improved conditions.

English teams are carefully optimistic about clean up effort Tim Sullivan NEW DELHI // The first foreign competitors arrived yesterday for the troubled Commonwealth Games, where frantic last-minute work by an army of cleaners was said to be paying off with improved conditions at the fetid athletes' village. The English hockey and lawn bowling teams landed in the city, and although they will be staying in hotels before moving to the village, their arrival was an enormous relief for India, whose image has been battered for days by negative publicity about filthy accommodations, unfinished construction and security problems for the games.

Fears that some countries would pull out of the games that begin on October 3 eased when New Zealand and Australia - both harsh critics of India's preparations - said their athletes would attend. Some problems still needed to be resolved before the start of the Olympic-style competition that brings together about 7,000 athletes and officials from 71 countries and territories. The criticism did not stop, with the head of Australia's Olympic Committee saying India should not have been awarded the games.

The past few days of chaos have badly battered India's reputation and its pride, as organizers struggled - all too publicly - with the filthy housing complex, dangerous construction, swarms of disease-carrying mosquitoes and security fears. Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, held an emergency meeting Thursday night and demanded that officials ensure the games were successful. City officials deployed as many as 1,000 mop- and bucket-carrying workers to clean the village and make repairs. Hundreds more workers were scattered across the city. Their tasks included painting lines on roads, laying fresh grass in front of official venues and spraying mosquitoes.

Police roadblocks and teams of soldiers with assault rifles have become commonplace. Mike Fennell, the Commonwealth Games Federation president who had rushed to New Delhi on Wednesday to deal with the troubles, said "considerable improvements have been made within the village". Fennell toured the village and met with top officials to discuss the preparations. The work must continue "with the greatest urgency", he said in a statement.

Some roads remain pitted with deep potholes after weeks of heavy monsoon rains; water was still standing in the basements of some buildings at the village; many medical workers for the games were reportedly still waiting for their passes; and a north Indian farmer caste - who have long demanded they be officially listed as low-caste to gain more government benefits - were threatening to bring chaos to the city by flooding the roads with cattle.

Craig Hunter, England's chef de mission, said he was glad to see the work in the village, but added "we are in a phase of looking at the detail, making sure that fire and safety equipment and procedures are in place and that the apartments are clean and safe". His upbeat comments were tempered with warnings. "Our next wave of athletes arrives [tomorrow] and a lot still needs to happen before then."

Athletes echoed his comments. "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," the English hockey player Ben Middleton said. "A couple of days will make a difference." * Associated Press