India races against time to save Games

09:48PM Wed 22 Sep, 2010

NEW DELHI: India scrambled against the clock to save the Commonwealth Games on Wednesday after a ceiling collapsed in the weightlifting arena and the chairman of England's athletics team said the entire squad's participation was "on a knife-edge."

Sir Andrew Foster, the chairman of Commonwealth Games England said the competition faces a "critical 24 to 48 hours" following ongoing problems with the athletes' village. Scotland team officials have delayed their departure to Delhi, having described their accommodation as "unsafe and unfit for human habitation."

On Wednesday, organizers faced further embarrassment over claims of a security breach, and the collapse of a section of false ceiling near the weightlifting stage at the main Jawaharlal Stadium. The ceiling collapse followed the collapse of a footbridge linking the stadium to a car park on Tuesday, injuring 26 workers.

"It is not certain and we will not be sending our team unless we are confident," he said. "But there still is a serious chance, if the Indian government and the organizing committee throw thousands of people at the village - which is what they quite often do in India - that this could still be salvagable.

Canada is reconsidering whether to send its athletes to the Games, a team official said Wednesday. Martha Deacon, Canada's chef de mission for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, told public broadcaster CBC that Canada is "reviewing" whether or not to send athletes to the Games. Canadian delegates scouted the athletes' village, "and there is great concern about comfort, safety and cleanliness," she said.

Team Wales had given Games organizers a deadline of Wednesday evening to confirm all venues and the Games Village are fit for purpose. Wales officials have become increasingly concerned about the safety of their athletes after the bridge's collapse in Delhi and problems with athlete accommodation. It is not yet clear what action Team Wales will take if the deadline is not met but representatives of the English and Scottish teams have admitted withdrawal from the Games is a possibility.

New Zealand's swimming team left on Wednesday for Abu Dhabi, with an official saying another competition was in the pipeline if the Games are canceled. Australian and Canadian squads are in Singapore and the British in Doha, suggesting another Asian meet could be hastily organized.

There have been reports of stray dogs, stagnant water, workers urinating in public, and human feces being found at the unfinished village where the athletes will live. Stagnant pools of water, breeding grounds for dengue mosquitoes, lie around and a reporter said homeless people were living outside the main stadium.

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 thousands of people are being treated in hospital. 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 have become a political minefield for a government already reeling under high inflation, officials from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's office toured the village.

"The prime minister is of course extremely concerned," Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar, who is overseeing the preparations, told CNN-IBN.

"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 organizing committee.