New Delhi: Several big name athletes have pulled out of the Commonwealth Games citing security and health worries, adding to woes of an event meant to showcase India’s ability to stand up with the likes of China on the world stage.
Some countries have effectively given Delhi a few days to clean up the Games village or face the prospect of national withdrawals from an event that has so far only showcased Indian traveller-tale cliches of filth, chaos and corruption.
“National Shame” was the headline of one Indian newspaper after the collapse on Tuesday of a footbridge by the main stadium, injuring 27 workers, highlighted problems facing organisers as they race to complete work.
Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennell said on Tuesday the two-week event, starting 3 October was seriously compromised by filthy conditions at the Games village that have shocked delegations. There have been reports of stray dogs, stagnant water and human faeces being found at the unfinished Games village where the athletes will live. Stagnant pools of water, breeding grounds for Dengue mosquitoes, lie around.
Some four or five accommodation towers at the Games village are still unfinished, lacking facilities such as wireless Internet, fitted toilets and plumbing. Rubble, unused masonry and discarded bricks litter the unfinished gardens.
World discus champion Dani Samuels of Australia 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, in the last 24 hours.
“Sorry people, but I have children to think about. My safety is more important to them than a medal,” Idowu wrote on his Twitter feed.
Triple Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt of Jamaica is the highest profile athlete to skip the event.
An epidemic of Dengue, in part blamed on stagnant water around unfinished construction sites, has hit Delhi and hundreds of people have been hospitalised. Many residents are fleeing Delhi during the Games, worried about security and traffic chaos.
Only days after two foreign visitors were shot and wounded by unknown assailants in Delhi, Australian TV broadcast how a reporter bought bomb making devices to smuggle through security points. Indian police denied he ever crossed a checkpoint.
Highlighting how the Games has quickly become a political minefield for a government already reeling under high inflation, officials from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office toured the village.
“It’s no state secret, we’re concerned,” said an official at the prime minister’s office, who declined to be named.
So far Singh, who took charge of monitoring the preparations a month ago after criticism of missed deadlines, has remained silent on the mounting criticism of the state of the Games, underscoring what critics say is his out-of-touch leadership.
Sporting power Australia backed the Commonwealth Games on Wednesday and many venues, including the main Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, have been praised as world-class.
Officials note that other events such as the 2004 Athens Olympics were dogged by problems, but turned out fine.
But Canada’s Games team said it might delay the arrival of some of its athletes if adequate accommodation was not available.
New Zealand Olympic Committee officials have arrived in Delhi to inspect facilities and security.
“I think if the Commonwealth Games didn’t go ahead, that could have significant implications for the future of the Commonwealth Games, and that’s not something we’d like to see,” New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told reporters
Indian officials defended their record.
“Please try to understand ... They want certain standards of hygiene, they want certain standards of cleanliness, which may differ from my standard,” said Lalit Bhanot, spokesman of the Delhi organising committee.
Dismal preparations have, for many, underscored the out-of-touch, slow-paced leadership of Prime Minister Singh and his Congress government, raising questions how a graft-ridden, inefficient state can hope to compete with China.