New Zealand mulls pulling out of Games

New Zealand mulls pulling out of Games

New Delhi: The Commonwealth Games (CWG) scheduled to begin on 3 October are rapidly turning into a public relations disaster for India, as global media attacked the lack of preparedness and New Zealand became the first country to consider pulling out of the event.

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Meanwhile, the principal opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), intensified pressure on the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government after it sought the personal intervention of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to salvage the situation ahead of the Games’ inauguration.

Seeking to mitigate the political fallout, the Congress maintained that the “blame has to be fixed", but said there shouldn’t be any prejudgement till the Games are over successfully, even as it sought to play down the accidents that have plagued the run-up to the fixture.

“I would like to tell you very categorically that these minor glitches and hitches do come around..., but to make out as the whole thing is collapsing, I am sorry, we do not agree with that," Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit told reporters a day after an under-construction foot overbridge collapsed outside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the venue for the opening ceremony, injuring several people.

On Wednesday, a portion of the false ceiling at the same stadium complex gave way.

Leading Commonwealth countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Scotland, have already raised concerns over health standards and security, and have given deadlines for the CWG organizing committee to ensure standards are up to the mark.

Concerns expressed by John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand, suggested that some countries may be considering a withdrawal.

“If they are to go ahead, from New Zealand’s perspective, conditions have to be safe and sound for our people," he said. “But if an individual athlete decides they don’t want to go for their own reasons, I would support them because I think, in the end, they have to make their own decision on whether they feel comfortable or not with the risks involved."

The Games have already been hit by several top athletes skipping the event and others saying on Wednesday that they won’t be coming.

Apart from Jamaican sprinter and world record holder Usain Bolt, who isn’t coming to participate in the event, world triple-jump champion Phillips Idowu of England, athletes Christine Ohuruogu and Lisa Dobriskey also announced that they would not be participating, citing security and injury concerns.

CWG Federation chief Michael Fennell, who wrote to cabinet secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar expressing concern over the “unlivable" conditions at the athletes’ village, is expected to arrive in the National Capital on Thursday to review preparations.

Fennell had given time till Thursday for the CWG organizing committee to fix the inadequacies in the residential zone of the village located on the banks of the Yamuna.

The BJP wants Singh to intervene and take stock of the preparations. “We reiterate that the BJP wants the success of the Commonwealth Games. Please do not put the nation to shame by your casual and careless approach... However, this is not the time to quarrel with the government. This is not about the Congress or the BJP, but about the country. The priority for all of us right now is to assure a smooth conduct of the Games," said former BJP president Venkaiah Naidu.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said: “The responsibility has to be fixed..., but do not prejudge and damn the Games. Wait till the Games are over."

Ruhi Tewari of Mint, PTI and Reuters also contributed to this story.