Teams look to army of workers to rescue Games

In some rooms, fresh towels are folded neatly on beds ready for arriving guests, while in others the painters are still at work.

Organisers are in a race against time to get the athletes’ village for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi ready, with federation chief Mike Fennell admitting extensive work needs to be done to keep the whole event on track.

As he issued his warning on Saturday, armies of cleaners were tackling filthy toilets that appalled the first wave of national team officials who arrived in the village less than a week ago.

Pest control workers patrolled the corridors after an outbreak of dengue fever in the city, electricians delved into fuse boxes, and labourers carried glass panels up staircases.

“It was very, very bad when we arrived two days ago,” said Jefri Ngadirin, the team manager for Malaysia, in the village’s food hall. “We’re working hard to get things OK for when our athletes fly in on Tuesday.”

Ngadirin said he had been lifting furniture, cleaning rooms and lobbying Indian officials to repair air-conditioning units and taps.

“The organisers promised to help us and now they have got a lot more people,” he said. “Progress is good. They just didn’t plan ahead. This place should have been ready in July, but our hopes were dashed when we saw it.”

Cameroon’s chef de mission David Ojong said he was uncertain whether the site would cope as teams pour in over the next week ahead of the opening ceremony on October 3.

“The accommodation was so dirty and just uncompleted when we arrived,” he said.

“Improvements have been fast, but we need
conditions to keep on getting better every day. The place has been busy with workers over the last few days.”

“Providing acceptable accommodation should not be the responsibility of each team. The host nation is meant to do that,” he added.

Yan Huckendubler, Canadian team attache, said athletes had reason to feel uneasy about what they would find in Delhi.

“These are young people who have often sacrificed two years of their lives to train for the Games,” he said. “They were promised the best conditions to help them perform to their best.

“Athletes need to be relaxed, not worrying about the toilet. The training grounds at the village are excellent, so it is odd that organisers forgot about the accommodation,” Huckendubler said.

The list of other concerns is long. At his press briefing on Saturday, Fennell said transport, security, fire and evacuation procedures and medical services all needed to be addressed immediately.

After the threat of several nations boycotting the Games receded, many team officials seem determined to adopt an upbeat approach to all the glitches and hiccups that likely lie ahead before the closing ceremony on October 14.

“So many people are working hard here to sort it all out,” said Australian medical officer Linda Philpot. “India has a huge amount of human resources and they are putting that into action.

“I feel sorry for them getting so much criticism, most things look great. A lot of people I meet are really positive.”

Most of the athletes already based in the village are Indian, and there have been few complaints from those representing the home nation.

“It is a great place to live,” Poonam Rani, who plays field hockey for India, said. “We’ve got a really nice apartment and we’re having a fun time.”

The withdrawal of big-name athletes has been another problem for the organisers, while the collapse of a new footbridge next to the main stadium on Wednesday made headlines around the world.

New Delhi is expecting 7 000 athletes and officials for the showpiece for Commonwealth countries, mostly nations and territories formerly in the British empire. – AFP

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