New Delhi: More nations delayed their teams’ arrivals for the Commonwealth Games as organisers raced against time to address security and health concerns that have already led several top athletes to pull out.
New Zealand joined Canada and Scotland in delaying its arrival in New Delhi due to poor accommodation for athletes, compounded by heavy monsoon rains and a dengue epidemic.
Also See | Timeline: Commonwealth Games 2010
Australian prime minister Julia Gillard highlighted security fears surrounding the Games and said athletes should decide for themselves whether or not to attend.
Two foreign visitors were shot and wounded by suspected militants on Sunday.
“There is obviously widespread concern about the Commonwealth Games,” Gillard told reporters in Canberra.
Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennell may hold an emergency meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to evaluate the Games in what is being seen as last ditch attempt to avoid national withdrawals.
The Games, held every four years for members of the organisation of mostly former British colonies, are estimated to have cost $3-6 billion. India had hoped to use them to display its growing global economic and political clout, rivalling China.
Instead, they have snowballed into a major embarrassment for the government, having to fend off criticism of shoddy construction, inadequate security and unfit accommodation.
In a sign of desperation, the government ordered the organising committee to hand over management of the Games Village, which will house 6,500 athletes, to the government.
Many sporting events have suffered glitches in the run-up to the opening ceremony, such as the 2004 Athens Olympics, and some infrastructure projects, like a new metro and international airport in Delhi, are widely praised. But polls in the Times of India and Hindustan Times newspapers showed that a vast majority of Indians were ashamed by the state of the Games.
Leading personalities have also criticized the government and labelled organisers “buffoons” who had sullied India’s image abroad as the country gains respectability on the world stage.
Singh has been accused of being out-of-touch and failing to recognise that events like the Games carry huge international prestige. Much of the Congress-led government remains focused on its rural vote, which has little interest in the Games.
“I genuinely feel sorry for what has happened and would like to apologise not only on my behalf and on behalf of the organising committee, but for everyone connected,” A K Mattoo, Organising Committee secretary general, told NDTV.
“This is a collective failure,” Mattoo said, in a rare admission of failure by the organisers.
The government and organisers have promised a prompt clean up. Teams start arriving this weekend for the 3 Oct. official start and so far no one has said the Games will be cancelled or delayed.
Athletes Pull Out
World discus champion Dani Samuels of Australia has pulled out of the Games because of security and health concerns, as did England’s world triple jump champion Phillips Idowu. Four other champions have quit due to various reasons, including injuries.
Triple Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt of Jamaica is the highest profile athlete to skip the event.
A Dengue epidemic has spread through New Delhi, sending thousands of people to hospital.
“They (athletes) may not be able to sustain their performance so they find out some reason or other why they are not participating, but these things happen in every game, every competition,” Lalit Bhanot, spokesman of the Delhi organising committee, told CNN IBN.
Scotland and Canada had already announced they were delaying sending athletes to New Delhi and Wales said it had sought guarantees that venues and athletes’ accommodation were safe.
Other nations have also threatened to stay home.
On Thursday, the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) told their athletes to delay their arrival until at least next Tuesday, just 5 days before the showpiece event is due to open.
New Zealand’s lawn bowls, hockey and badminton teams, and officials from cycling and athletics, were all scheduled to begin arriving in Delhi from Saturday.
However, after an inspection by NZOC president Mike Stanley and secretary general Barry Maister on Wednesday, they pushed back their arrival dates.
“It is tremendously disappointing,” Stanley said in a statement. “The long list of outstanding issues has made it clear the village will now not be ready for New Zealand athletes to move in as planned.”
Images of stray dogs, stagnant water, workers urinating in public, and human faeces found at the unfinished athletes’ village have overshadowed the successes of the Games -- the main stadium and other sporting venues.
A portion of false ceiling in the weightlifting venue caved in on Wednesday, a day after the collapse of a footbridge by the main stadium, injuring 27 workers.
The event has also been plagued by security concerns.
Two foreign tourists were shot and wounded at the weekend by unknown assailants in Delhi and Australian TV broadcast how a reporter bought bomb-making devices to smuggle through security points. Indian police have denied he ever crossed a checkpoint.