Friday, September 24, 2010

Scots fly out to Commonwealth Games but big clean-up still isn't finished

THE vanguard of Scotland's Commonwealth Games squad will fly out to Delhi today as last-minute work continues to prepare their accommodation.
• Security is tight at New Delhi Airport as the athletes, among them those from England who will initially stay in hotels, fly in for the Games

Scores of competitors will touch down in the Indian capital at 9:30am tomorrow and will be taken straight to the athletes' village complex to begin preparing for their shot at glory.

Unlike their English counterparts, the Scots competitors will not stay in hotels initially, with team officials satisfied that outstanding hygiene at the much-criticised accommodation blocks are close to being resolved.

Nonetheless, the chairman of Commonwealth Games Scotland (CGS) said he expected there would be "challenges ahead", after a week in which the nation's participation was in serious doubt due to health and safety concerns.

As the first wave of competitors leave for Delhi from Glasgow airport this afternoon. The confidence in the Scottish camp about the readiness of the Games site is not shared throughout other home nations squads, with further call-offs yesterday from athletes who believe the risks to be too great.

Any threat to the Games taking place now appears to have receded as athletes from all nations make their way to Delhi. Even so, criticism towards the host nation remains fierce, with a senior Australian official saying that India should not have been awarded the Games.

As far as Scotland is concerned, the team's chef de mission, Jon Doig, has confirmed that progress is being made after concerns that the facility was not fit for purpose.

Michael Cavanagh, chairman of CGS, said: "I am delighted that the board has been able to confirm our intention to fly to the Games on Saturday as hoped.

"There will undoubtedly be challenges ahead in Delhi, but we are confident that these can be effectively managed by our team management, who have done a fantastic job over the last week to ensure we could get to this position, and we thank them for their unstinting efforts."

A party of 41 athletes and staff delayed their departure to India on Tuesday after complaints about conditions.

The Scottish team is travelling out in groups and those due to leave tomorrow are from archery, lawn bowls, shooting, tennis and weightlifting.

The first group of 41 did not travel earlier this week following concerns over conditions in Delhi. These athletes - rugby players, boxers and wrestlers - are now expected to travel on Tuesday. In all, Scotland will be sending 192 athletes, with scheduled flights also booked for Sunday and Thursday

Some competitors will travel in from other training and competition locations worldwide.

While England have temporarily housed some athletes in hotels as work continues in the village, a spokeswoman for CGS told The Scotsman that competitors would be taken directly to the accommodation blocks.

Willie Wood, the 72-year-old bowler who is due to compete at his eighth Commonwealth Games, said: "I am absolutely delighted to hear that we will be travelling to Delhi as planned.

"It's great to see that things have moved on significantly from the start of the week and I can now focus on competing."

At least eight nations expressed reservations over the preparations for the Games, with teams hitting out at accommodation for athletes described as "unfit for human habitation".

Earlier this week, officials from Team Scotland released a series of photographs showing flooding and debris in the athletes' quarters.

Individual athletes, including reigning Commonwealth triple jump champion Phillips Idowu, have decided not to attend because of safety fears.

England's Russell Downing and Greg Henderson of New Zealand were the latest road cyclists to withdraw following four of their Team Sky colleagues on Thursday.

Henderson, 34, said: "There are just too many risks and in this situation the cons outweigh the pros. It's about my family. I've got to think about my wife and little girl Charlie, and they don't want me going to the Commonwealth Games."

As well as the condition of the accommodation which will be home to 7,000 athletes and officials from 71 nations, doubts over the Games intensified when a footbridge to the main stadium collapsed and the roof of the weightlifting venue fell in.

Speaking yesterday, Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates said India should not have been awarded the Games, adding that the Commonwealth Games Federation lacked the resources to monitor the progress of construction deadlines.

But Shona Robison, the Scottish sports minister, said: "I am delighted that Commonwealth Games Scotland now feel they are in a position to confirm that our athletes will travel to compete. The Scottish Government and its partners have been working hard to ensure that Team Scotland participates in the Delhi Games and I would like to commend our athletes for their positive attitude during a very challenging time."

Ms Robison said she received assurances from Indian sports minister Manohar Singh Gill yesterday that health and safety concerns are being addressed and plans to hold further talks.

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