/ 22 September 2010

Australia backs Games as pressure mounts

Sporting power Australia backed the Commonwealth Games on Wednesday but appeared a lone voice as pressure mounted on India to clean up the athletes village or face the prospect of nations withdrawing from the showpiece event. “National Shame” was the headline of one Indian newspaper after the collapse of a footbridge outside the main stadium highlighted the raft of problems facing the organisers as they race to complete the work.

There have been reports of stray dogs, stagnant water and human faeces being found at the unfinished Games village only days before the October 3 start of the two-week event.

At least two athlete stars have pulled out citing security and health concerns in New Delhi.

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 will tour the venues on Wednesday.

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. Australian sports Minister Mark Arbib said the government and Australian sporting officials were confident preparations for the $6-billion Games would be ready in time.

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 Games facilities and security after their team manager criticised the accommodation for athletes.

“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

The shooting of two foreign visitors by suspected militants in Delhi on Sunday has combined with a dengue fever epidemic, heavy monsoon rains, delayed construction, graft scandals and traffic chaos to put the Games at risk.

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.

“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.

But Indian officials defended their record.

“Please try to understand … They want certain standard of hygiene, they want certain standard of cleanliness, which may differ from my standard,” said Lalit Bhanot, spokesperson 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.

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. – Reuters