The Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell is heading to New Delhi for emergency talks with top Indian officials.
Games chief heads to Delhi for emergency talks
The head of the Commonwealth Games is rushing to New Delhi for emergency talks with top Indian officials amid widespread anger over the country's frenzied last-minute preparations for the event, due to start in little more than a week. The Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell was to arrive New Delhi on Thursday and had requested a meeting with the prime minister Manmohan Singh, the federation chief executive Mike Hooper said. Mr Fennell's arrival came 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 drop ceiling inside the weightlifting venue collapsed, government officials said. 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 arrive beginning on Thursday 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". "It's just filthy. ... It hasn't been cleaned," said Mr Hooper. Scotland's team announced today it would delay its travel to New Delhi. He said the problems had prompted Mr Fennell to rush to New Delhi far earlier than he had come 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," Mr Hooper said. New Delhi has been a frenzy of activity in recent weeks, as the city struggles to ready itself for the Games, which begin October 3. The city has had seven years to prepare, though very little work was done until 2008. On Tuesday, hours after games officials blasted the organisers for the condition of the athletes' village, a 90-metre pedestrian bridge leading from a parking lot to the games' main stadium collapsed, injuring 27 construction workers, five critically. "I've never come across this before," Mr Hooper said of the last-minute preparations. "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," he said. The Indian media blasted its officials for the turmoil - "C'wealth Games India's Shame", The Times of India newspaper said on Tuesday in a page-one headline. But officials continued to downplay the problems, a position that international sports officials say defies reality. "We are absolutely prepared," the Cabinet secretary K. M. Chandrasekhar, told CNN-IBN television on Wednesday. Speaking of the state of the athletes' village,the urban development minister Jaipal Reddy told CNN-IBN: "Athletes and guests should not bother about such small matters," and insisted it would be immaculate when the events begin. Referring to the collapsed pedestrian bridge, the New Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit told reporters: "The accident is not as big as being made out to be. We are giving adequate compensation to those injured." Ms Dikshit is the equivalent of the city's mayor. The athletes' village is due to open on Thursday, when the first competitors are to arrive in preparation for the Games. In addition to shoddy conditions inside and outside the buildings, there also are problems with plumbing, wiring, furnishings, Internet access and cell 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. "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," England's chef de mission Craig Hunter told Britain's Press Association. "Athletes will start getting on planes soon and decisions will have to be made. We need new levels of reassurance." Scotland team's, the first batch of which was set to leave on Thursday, delayed its departure for the Games, saying it wants to give organisers time to prepare accommodation and solve the growing number of problems. The Commonwealth Games Scotland chairman Michael Cavanagh said that 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 on Tuesday, citing concerns over health and security. Although no team has said it will pull out, New Zealand's 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," Currie told New Zealand radio network newstalkZB. Criticism of the games have become increasingly vocal in recent weeks, with widespread accusations of corruption and mismanagement. Organisers were also struggling to cope with an outbreak of dengue fever and security worries. Security has been increased after unidentified gunmen wounded two tourists on Sunday outside one of the city's top tourist attractions. An Islamic militant group took responsibility for the shooting. *AP