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Athletes arrive for Games, but future in doubt


Baku – APA. The first batch of athletes arrived in India for the Commonwealth Games on Friday, opting to stay at a hotel instead of unfinished, filthy accommodation as the future of the showcase event hung in the balance, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
Forty-seven members of the English men’s hockey and lawn bowl teams will stay at a hotel until at least Saturday before moving to the athletes village which, along with a bridge collapse and a suspected militant attack on two foreign visitors, has thrown the Games into crisis.
Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram told CNN construction and cleaning at the venues would be completed on Friday and at the Games Village on Saturday, following which security agencies would take over the sites.
Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell, who flew to New Delhi to inspect venues, gave an initial thumbs up for accommodation improvements but said work still needed to be done before the October 3 start of the two-week event.
"Considerable improvements have been made within the Village," Fennell said in a statement before the inspection. "It is vital that all remedial work that has already started continues with the greatest urgency."
The New Zealand Olympic Committee, one of the most vocal critics of the Games, planned to send a team to Delhi but warned "the clock was ticking" for organizers to get things in order.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was worried that teams might pull out and told officials "no stone should be left unturned" to ensure a successful event, an aide said.
"We are all concerned. It’s a very prestigious undertaking for the country," said Prithviraj Chavan, junior minister in the PM’s office, a day after Singh met key ministers to review preparations.
An influential Indian minister complained about the organization of the Games, echoing a chorus of international criticism that has seen many top sports stars boycott the event.
"I think our international image has taken a beating and I hope we come out of it very quickly," Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told Headlines Today television in New York on Friday.
"We could have done without the embarrassment of this Commonwealth Games. It’s embarrassing for our global image."
Australia’s Olympic chief said the Games should never have been awarded to India.
"I don’t think it is a cultural thing. When you agree to host (a Games) you are required to provide the basics in terms of health and hygiene for the athletes," Australian Olympic Committee President John Coates said.
An Athens 2004 Olympics official said organizers had misjudged the size of the task.
"It seems they took over the Commonwealth Games without having the conditions to do them," Lambis Nikolao, head of the Greek Olympic Committee at the time of the 2004 Olympics, told Reuters in an interview.
"Major international sporting events are huge in size. If you are not careful they can turn into complete madness."
Cyclist Greg Henderson became the first New Zealand athlete to withdraw over concerns about health and security. A dengue fever epidemic has hit Delhi and two tourists were shot and wounded by suspected militants in the city on Sunday.
Olympic cycling champion Geraint Thomas, two English riders and one Isle of Man rider also opted out of the Games, due to start on October 3.
India had hoped to use the Games to display its growing global economic and political influence, rivaling neighbor China which put on a spectacular 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
Instead, they have become a major embarrassment for the world’s largest democracy where infrastructure projects have remained slow paces and a drag on economic growth.
Reuters reporters have also seen children working at Games construction sites, despite it being illegal to employ minors.
"SECURITY IN PLACE"
The Games, held every four years for mostly former British colonies, are estimated to have cost $6 billion. Asia’s third-largest economy was awarded them in 2003 but did not begin proper preparations until two years ago.
The Delhi Games may turn out to be the most compromised since a 1986 boycott of the Games in Britain, when 32 nations stayed away because of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s objections to sanctions against apartheid-riven South Africa.
The Australian and New Zealand prime ministers said they understood if their athletes decided not to take part. But England said it would send 551 athletes to the Games because there were signs of improvement on the ground.
Kenya said it would send a 240-strong team after receiving security assurances, officials said, though several of its top athletes have withdrawn because of illness or fatigue.
Wales also gave its team the all-clear to go and Scotland said its first group would depart for New Delhi on Saturday.
New Zealand and Canada have delayed their arrivals.
Commonwealth Games Federation CEO Mike Hooper said he was hopeful the Games would get off the ground, given a new sense of urgency among Indian officials.
Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the Delhi organizing committee, said no team would pull out. "I can assure you that security is well in place. Now if some people have their own conception (of security), I can’t help," he told reporters.
Many sporting events have hit trouble before opening, such as the 2004 Athens Olympics, and some of Delhi’s infrastructure projects, including a new metro and airport, have won praise.
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.

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