Thursday, September 23, 2010

Indian prime minister calls Games crisis meeting

India's prime minister called a meeting with two ministers for Thursday evening as the country scrambles to pull together the problem-plagued Commonwealth Games.

Sports Minister M.S. Gill and Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy are to meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, said Singh spokesman Harish Khare.

Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram set timelines Thursday for the organizing committee and other authorities to complete any work on the games, the Home Ministry said, though it released no details about the deadlines or possible consequences for missing them.

Commonwealth Games chief Mike Fennell was expected in New Delhi on Thursday, but the prime minister's office said Fennell has not yet requested a meeting with Singh.

India's ability to host the games, which begin a week from Sunday, has been put in doubt after a bridge collapse and criticism of the athletes' village as "uninhabitable" and "filthy."

New Zealand and Canada became the latest Commonwealth members to delay their delegations' departures for the games because of hygiene and security.

New Zealand's Olympic Committee said its athletes were supposed to arrive this weekend, but now may not arrive until Tuesday.

Canada postponed the departure for the women's field hockey team, two shooting athletes, and staff including medical professionals for two days, Commonwealth Games Canada (CGC) announced.

"The bottom line is that the accommodations in the athletes' village simply aren't ready," said Scott Stevenson, CGC's director of sport.

"We're working extremely hard with local authorities to get the finishing work and the clean-up done, but it's going to take more time. More importantly, we have not received the official clearance from the host organizing committee and the Commonwealth Games Federation that the village is ready for its official opening."

Scotland was the first to announce it was delaying its delegation's departure, saying Tuesday the athletes' village is unfinished and "nowhere near an acceptable standard in terms of health, safety and hygiene."

Structural problems at the venues are also causing concern. A pedestrian bridge collapsed at a stadium Tuesday, injuring 27 people, and ceiling tiles fell off the same stadium Wednesday.

A handful of athletes have withdrawn from the games because of safety and hygiene fears. They include Australia's Dani Samuels, the world discus champion, and Canadian archers Kevin Tataryn and Dietmar Trillus, according to CNN affiliate Global Network News.

English world triple jump champion Phillips Idowu announced Tuesday he was pulling out, saying on his Twitter blog, "When people are being hurt by collapsing bridges and part of a roof in a venue falling in, plus all the other issues in and around the village (it) doesn't instill complete confidence."

The Commonwealth Games take place every four years among members of the former British empire.

South Africa's delegation said it still planned to have its team compete at the games, but warned it could reconsider if the situation changed.

"The safety and health of Team South Africa are of paramount importance to us and if any stage we feel that this is compromised in any way, we will not hesitate to bring the team back home," said Tubby Reddy, chief executive of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard reminded citizens of the government's travel advisory for India, which warns of a high risk of terrorism in New Delhi, where the games are scheduled to be held.

The Australian High Commission has sought repeated assurances from Indian authorities about the safety and "structural integrity" of the games, she told a news conference Thursday.

Australia's minister for sport, Mark Arbib, is also seeking an update on the readiness of the facilities, she said.

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