Prime Minister Singh convenes high-level meeting as growing list of nations delay their travel to Indian capital.
|Commonwealth Games Federation signalled that India was succeeding in fixing the problems [AFP]|
India has launched a final desperate bid to salvage next month’s Commonwealth Games, severely jeopardised by a host of issues ranging from an incomplete athletes’ village to collapsing infrastructure and withdrawals by several participants citing security and hygiene concerns.
With just about 10 days to go for the event’s scheduled opening in the capital, New Delhi, Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, chaired crisis talks with senior officials on Thursday to avert what is threatening to be an embarrassing fiasco.
The authorities have deployed hundreds of additional personnel to get the city ready for the games, even hiring staff from private hotels to spruce up the far-from-ready athletes’ village.
The frenetic push won approval from the Commonwealth Games Federation, which said that New Delhi was succeeding in fixing the problems.
“There has been progress and there is more to do,” Mike Hooper, chief executive of the federation, told AFP, adding that there had been a “significant additional resource deployment”.
“We’re concentrating on fixing the problems. My attitude is that the Games are on. We are working at the highest levels of government,” he said.
Several teams delayed their athletes’ departure for the Indian capital amid demands for better conditions in the village, but the first contingents were scheduled to arrive on Friday.
However, England said on Thursday that all of its 17 member sports had agreed to travel to New Delhi.
“CGE’s [Commonwealth Games England] Chef de Mission, Craig Hunter, and our team in Delhi are now seeing the improved levels of resourcing which are required to resolve the significant operational issues,” it said in a statement.
|Games at a glance|
|It is the 19th Commonwealth Games|
|To be held between October 3 and 14|
|The Games village will host over 6,500 athletes from 71 teams|
|Total of 260 events in 17 sporting disciplines over 12 days|
|About 30,000 volunteers to assist|
|The games will cost an estimated $3bn (according to media reports)|
|Commonwealth nations make up 1.8 billion people, accounting for one-third of the world’s population|
“But we will continue to monitor the situation daily to ensure the [athletes’] village and stadia are safe and fit for purpose.”
Wales also said it was sending its team as planned after receiving assurances that the facilities were up to scratch, and Scotland said that it had been “heartened” by the clean-up.
“Things are looking much better,” Jon Doig, Team Scotland’s representative, said in New Delhi.
Several world-class athletes have pulled out of the October 3-14 event, which has damaged India’s image and its plans to use the games as a platform to promote its economic emergence.
Prerna Suri, Al Jazeera’s correspondent reporting from New Delhi, said on the day the athletes were due to arrive, there was still a lot of construction going on.
“Passing the stadium today I saw people constructing pavements and even planting saplings,” she said.
“I also saw a lot of bridges that were still not complete. We are hearing reports that 16 of the 34 towers athletes will be staying in are not ready.”
To add to the organisers’ woes, a footbridge by the main stadium collapsed on Tuesday injuring 27 workers and, on Wednesday, part of a false ceiling in the weightlifting venue caved in.
A leading Indian builders’ union said the rush to finish venues in time – seven years after the country was awarded the games – had compromised safety and quality.
India’s leading business lobby group also voiced fears of the damage to the country’s image abroad. “It is a sad state of affairs indeed and, psychologically, puts a question mark against India’s capacity to deliver,” Amit Mitra, the general secretary of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said.
Months of warnings
Andrew Pipe, the president of Canada’s games delegation, launched a fierce attack on the Indian organisers.
“Their indifference at times has seemed to border on the intransigent to us, and that’s just unacceptable,” Pipe said. Months of warnings to the organisers “have fallen on deaf ears”, he added.
Out of the 71 teams taking part, New Zealand, Scotland and Canada have all delayed their arrivals.
Al Jazeera’s David Garrett reports on the Scottish swimmers’ preparations for the Commonwealth Games
Australia may delay sending its teams and also plans to send a high level police force to protect its athletes.
Julia Gillard, Australia’s prime minister, repeated a warning on Thursday of a “high risk of terror attacks” at the games.
She said Australia planned to “boost the number of officials” deployed by Australia in New Delhi. She did not elaborate when asked if these were security or intelligence officials.
The first 22 competitors from England were due to fly to New Delhi on schedule on Thursday night, the country’s federation confirmed.
Kenya will send a 240-strong team on Saturday after receiving security assurances from India.
Kalonzo Musyoka, the vice-president, and Paul Otuoma, sports minister, told the Kenyan delegation that the two governments were working closely together.
“Kenyans should not join a team of pessimists but go and bring glory to our country,” Musyoka said.
“As a strong member of the Commonwealth, Kenya should show solidarity with India by honouring the Games,” he told the delegation while handing over the east African nation’s flag to Ezekiel Kemboi, team captain and world steeplechase champion.
New Delhi had been expecting 7,000 athletes and officials for the multi-sport showpiece for Commonwealth countries, mostly nations and territories formerly in the British empire.