Thursday, September 23, 2010

Competitors shrug off Commonwealth commotion

Once again in the arena of international sport, the athletes are the men and women caught in the middle.

It’s becoming a familiar theme. As inept Commonwealth Games organizers and corrupt Indian politicians flail away in New Delhi on the eve of one of the world’s most historic and significant sporting spectacles, the competitors are made to wait.

It’s a shame because the major purpose of such multi-sport Games has never been to demonstrate the economic clout or cultural charm of the host city but instead to showcase the best in sport as performed by legions of diverse athletes full of youthful potential.

The Commonwealth gathering has for 80 years been known as “The Friendly Games.”

Now, as the opening ceremony at Nehru Stadium approaches, the ever- present officials who have come to dominate sport bicker, banter and barter, causing consternation for the athletes.

In spite of it all, the overwhelming majority of those who have earned the right to wear the Maple Leaf in New Delhi are determined to get there.

“My duty is to make sure I’m preparing myself for competition,” says Ohenewa Akuffo, a wrestler and world championship silver medallist.

“Until my country let’s me know it is not safe to go I’m not going to let my Commonwealth experience pass me by.”

Two Canadian archers have pulled out of the Games for personal reasons. Others, like Olympian Crispin Duenas, remain steadfast.

“I never considered not going. I am solely there to compete for my country,” Duenas says.

“The reason that I want to go is to show that Canadians have the tenacity and the drive to compete no matter what the conditions might be.”

Canadian high jump champion Nicole Forrester is determined to compete at her fourth Commonwealth Games.

“To decide not to go at this point would be based on sensationalized fear and possibly leave me haunted with regret,” Forrester admits. “India may not have everything completed, but as long as they have a high jump pit, a bar and a surface for me to jump off, I’m good to go.”

If you listen to the athletes you can hear their resolve on this matter.

They will compete in spite of the commotion and as it has been at so many multi-sport Games in the recent past, they will save the day in India. 

Canada happy at Games village progress, athletes to reach Sunday

Canadian officials, who Wednesday delayed the departure of their athletes for the Commonwealth Games, Thursday expressed satisfaction with progress being made at the athletes' village and expected the event to take place as scheduled.

Canadian athletes are now scheduled to begin arriving in Delhi Sunday, CTV news channel reported.

If the progress are sustained, the Commonwealth Games will be held without any further setbacks, the TV channel quoted Scott Stevenson, director of Sport for Commonwealth Games Canada, as saying from New Delhi.

He said Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has brought "a change in the culture of preparations" by bringing in her own staff, including engineers, to manage the project.

"These employees were given the authority to act, to decide upon the things that needs to get done in concert with us and ensure all the necessary equipment and man power would be on site to accomplish that task,'' Stevenson said.

"We are starting to now be in a better position to turn our focus toward sport again, which is really exciting because it is what most of us are all about,'' he said.

Andrew Pipe, president of Commonwealth Games Canada, also welcomed the intervention of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who held an emergency meeting with Sports Minister M.S. Gill, Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy and seniors officials Thursday to fix the problems.

"What you are seeing is now, for the first time, the injection or projection of significant political leadership in the organization of the Games. Frankly, this is leadership that has been lacking,'' he said.

Canada Wednesday told its athletes, including the women's field hockey team, to delay leaving for Delhi because of "unlivable" conditions at the sports village. Two Canadian archers also dropped out of the Games for security reasons.

These athletes will now start reaching Delhi Sunday, the TV network said.

The women's field hockey team, who wanted to be in Delhi much before the start of the Games to get acclimatized to the weather and time difference, are now preparing in Vancouver.

Mervyn King's perfect Commonwealth Games preparation

Having already packed his bags, Mervyn King - who is expecting to fly to New Delhi on Sunday - boosted his confidence for next month's Commonwealth Games by winning the Wyldecrest Park Homes Premier League Bowls in Cyprus yesterday.

King's chances of finishing top of the round robin league table were dashed yesterday morning, when he lost in straight sets, 10-6 7-4, to the defending champion Paul Foster.

But he had a second chance to take on Foster in the knockout stage, and made amends with a dramatic tie-break victory, delivering the winner with his last bowl of the deciding end to return a 6-1 0-7 1-0 scorecard.

He went on to claim a place in the final with a resounding 6-2 9-6 win over his old friend Greg Harlow, who won the world title at Potters in January.

And his final victory over five times world champion Alex Marshall was gained on a nail-biting sudden death one-end tie-break, when Marshall's last despairing effort missed its target by a 16th of an inch. To play four games in succession in searing heat was very demanding - but will no doubt stand King in good stead for his Commonwealth Games campaign, and spectators agreed that he looked the coolest of all the players.

When asked how he felt after spending four hours on the green in temperatures that soared into the high 30s, King said: “In a word, knackered.”

Once again, however, it was the Norfolk star's sheer consistency that ground down his opponents, on a tricky rink that had been newly laid, and needed running in, so that accurate bowling was difficult.

“The lines were hard to find, and you were punished heavily if you were slightly off track,” said King.

“But we all worked hard at mastering the surface, and some of the games were really good to watch.”

n Chris Ward remains in with a chance of finishing his 50th consecutive Great Yarmouth Bowls Festival with yet another title, writes Tony Dunton.

Ward (North Walsham) and playing partner Bob Denny finished top of their second phase round robin group in the Pub on the Prom-sponsored Over-60 Open pairs with three wins - 21-2, 10-4 and 14-7 - to earn a last eight meeting with Great Yarmouth pair of D Mann/R Pooley, who won two of their three games to go through on shots difference.

Today's first quarter-final sees J Jorden and B Wright (Notts) play the Bradwell pair of P Smith and P Ridler after both pairs finished undefeated at the top of their groups.

Cambridge pair B Manning and M Beeton also recorded three wins (9-8, 11-4 and 11-10) and now face Downham Market's D Kellow and P Rayner. In the last pairing I Morris and P Duke (Skegness) will play D Riches and C Boon (Wortwell / Norfolk Bowling Club).

Play starts today at 9am with the final at approximately 1pm, followed by the closing ceremony.

India scrambles to save Commonwealth Games

Indian officials scrambled Thursday to salvage the rapidly approaching Commonwealth Games as a growing number of competitors delayed their arrival to allow organizers time to finish their frantic preparations.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held an emergency meeting Thursday night with his sports minister and other top officials to assess the state of preparations for the event, which is to start in little more than a week. They did not give details on what was discussed. Delhi's Lieutenant Governor Tejinder Khanna said Singh "was informed that every effort is being made to prepare the games facilities and the village to the expected standards."

Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi, whose organizing team has been mired in graft allegations, was not asked to attend the meeting.

The games were meant to showcase India's emergence as a regional powerhouse. But long delays in getting facilities ready and a list of scandals have turned them into an embarrassment.

A poll in the Hindustan Times newspaper Thursday showed 68 percent of surveyed New Delhi residents were ashamed of the games, which bring together athletes from the 71 countries and territories of the former British empire and are held every four years. The poll of 523 people had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Organizers have struggled with an outbreak of dengue fever, the collapse of a footbridge leading to the main stadium and security fears after the Sunday shooting of two tourists outside one of the city's top attractions. A Muslim militant group took responsibility for the shooting.

Since concerns over the athletes' village _ including excrement in rooms and problems with plumbing, wiring and furnishings _ were raised earlier this week, India has committed major resources to cleaning it up, with Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit taking charge of the operation, the games' chief executive, Mike Hooper, told The Associated Press.

"There has been improvement each day," he said. "There's more to do."

The village, which is meant to house more than 7,000 athletes and officials, opened Thursday with 138 Indian athletes and sports officials moving in, organizers said.

Hooper said some Australian officials also had moved in.

Kalmadi said most of the problems with the village had been resolved and the games would turn out to be a success.

"We will look after everybody well, and they will have a good time," he said.

But many national delegations remained concerned.

The New Zealand team announced Thursday it was joining Scotland and Canada in delaying its arrival in New Delhi because of the poor condition of the accommodations. England and Australia have also expressed concern about the village.

"It is tremendously disappointing," New Zealand Olympic Committee President Mike Stanley said, adding that the travel changes would put a strain on preparations for athletes. "We know how hard this must be for athletes and we're continuing to push ... for an urgent resolution."

The Australian government on Thursday said it was sending experts to assess hygienic conditions in the village and has upgraded its travel advice to alert tourists to possible construction "deficiencies" after the bridge collapsed and part of a drop ceiling at a games venue caved in.

Australian media reported that Federal Police officers would travel with the team to provide extra security, while Prime Minister Julia Gillard confirmed only that "We have boosted the number of officials we have in New Delhi and we have others on standby."

Commonwealth Games Federation President Mike Fennell arrived in India late Thursday on an emergency visit and planned to meet with top Indian officials to discuss the problems Friday.

So far, four athletes _ including three world champions _ have said they won't attend because of health or safety concerns, but no national teams have pulled out.

"Everybody wants to make this work, and everyone is working together to make this happen," Hooper said.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told Parliament that the nation's athletes will participate in the games unless security or health standards are badly compromised and a decision could be made by Friday.

"Obviously they'll be cognizant of what's happening with other countries, but it's certainly my preference for them to be able to attend the games if they possibly can," he said.

New Delhi has been a frenzy of activity in recent weeks, as the city struggles to ready itself for the games, which are to begin Oct. 3. The city has had seven years to prepare, though very little work was done until 2008.

Delhi Games to unveil future greats

The skinny Aboriginal runner had nothing in common with the pair of precocious teen swimmers.

But three of Australia's greatest sporting careers were forever linked by announcing their presence at a Commonwealth Games.

Cathy Freeman and Kieran Perkins were both aged 16 and unknown to the larger sporting world when they competed at the 1990 Auckland Games. Susie O'Neill was a year younger.

Freeman won a gold medal as part of Australia's 4x100m relay team; Perkins a silver in an event soon to become his own, the 1500m freestyle; while O'Neill collected a gold in the 4x100m freestyle.

The trio's path to greatness began at an event renowned for unearthing the next crop of sporting heroes.

Some 20 years after Freeman, Perkins and O'Neill arrived on the international scene, Australians will get a glimpse of their sporting future in New Delhi.

Many Australian athletes head for the October 3-14 Games in the Indian capital in relative obscurity; some will return celebrated.

Among the youngest Australians predicted to make a splash in Delhi is swimmer Yolane Kukla.

Kukla qualified for the Games team when aged 14 years and 175 days - a week older than the legendary Ian Thorpe was when he first made an Australian team.

Kukla will be 15 when racing in Delhi in the butterfly discipline made famous in Australia by O'Neill.

Like Kukla, O'Neill was a 15-year-old when at her first Commonwealth Games in 1990 and recalls the feeling well.

O'Neill has fond memories of competing on an Australian team which included her high jumping school teacher, Deanne Bopf.

"I remember a massive case full of new clothes and uniform, it was really exciting back then," O'Neill says.

"I was a little bit nervous about being away with people I didn't know really well ... but there was definitely more excitement.

"There was no pressure, no one was expecting anything from me, and I remember all the older ones ... looking after me and it was just fun.

"When you are younger, you don't realise as much. I was more nervous towards the end of my career than back then, because you are sort of oblivious to what it really means when you're young."

Kukla won Delhi Games selection along with young teammates Jayden Hadler and Katie Goldman.

Hadler, 16, is a decorated Queenslander whose talents have long been lauded at underaged competitions, while 17-year-old Goldman has taken the road less travelled in swimming.

The university student, trained by Grant Hackett's former coach Dennis Cotterill, stunned herself by cutting 11 seconds from her personal best to win the 800m freestyle at the trials for Delhi.

In track and field, an emerging batch of Australians hope to make a mark in Delhi alongside some of the biggest names in the game.

Olympic and world champion pole vaulter Steve Hooker, 28, and silver medallist hurdler Sally Pearson, 24, aim to build on their success at the Beijing Olympics.

Below them, the next wave of athletes includes pole vaulter Liz Parnov, whose father Alex coaches Hooker.

Parnov's sister Vicky competed at the 2006 Commonwealth Games while her aunt, Tatiana Grigorieva, won a silver pole vault medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Shooter Laetisha Scanlan is another young gun with her sights on gold in Delhi after recent stunning performances.

The 20-year-old Victorian has set a new Australian record in the women's trap in early September - and just one shot shy of the world record.

In the boxing ring, Australia is pinning gold medal hopes on indigenous 18-year-old middleweight Damien Hooper.

Hooper, from Dalby, 200km west of Brisbane, has been hailed a special talent by Australian Institute of Sport assistant boxing coach Don Abnett.

"Damien is a very good chance of a medal probably our best chance, despite his age," Abnett said.

"Anything is possible with Damien, he is very talented and like a lot of indigenous fighters has an awkward but unique style."

NZ to decide on games participation

New Zealand will decide within 24 hours whether it will attend the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, though its team manager Dave Currie says last minute attempts to bring facilities up to scratch were "like trying to stop the Titanic."

The New Zealand Olympic Committee was due to meet Friday to receive a report from its president Mike Stanley and secretary general Barry Maister who have just returned from the Indian capital. Stanley described the state of the athletes' village as "tremendously disappointing".

New Zealand has delayed the arrival of its athletes by two days to allow organizers time to improve standards in the village.

The Games, too, will serve

A joke doing the rounds says that Kalmadi tried, in despair, to hang himself from a ceiling fan but the ceiling collapsed. We can do nothing right. Corruption and inefficiency have come to symbolise the organisation of the Commonwealth Games, in the popular imagination .

And people are outraged, disgusted. Rightly so. But what use is this outrage if it does not lead on to systemic change in how we do things in this country? It is easy to hang one Kalmadi, figuratively speaking, but not easy to fix what is wrong with the system.

Corruption is pervasive , adds to the cost of doing anything worthwhile, makes India one of the worst places to do business in, destroys quality and replaces stability with uncertainty. India cannot realise its economic potential in full if corruption continues to create real hurdles in the way business is done in the country. Fixing corruption goes all the way to reforming political funding. Politics costs money.

A political party generates legitimate expenses even in a non-election year, which together add up to a pretty penny. In the absence of an institutional form of political funding, the legitimate expenses associated with political activity are financed through corruption: loot of the exchequer, sale of patronage or plain extortion.

The politician cannot mobilise resources using the state machinery without the connivance and collusion of the civil servants. The system suborns them as well, brave exceptions notwithstanding. Corruption will not go away just by reforming political funding, but without institutionalised funding of politics, the battle against corruption cannot even begin. Reforming political funding is key.

It is this cancer of Indian democracy that the Games have brought to bleak light. The Games exposes it to global scrutiny, and we hang our head in shame. Hanging is not particularly creative, however. The point is to strike at the root cause of corruption, and reform political funding.

The initiative has to come from those who give the money, who are also the system’s victims, not from its beneficiaries. The question is: do we have what it takes to convert the outrage in the drawing room into corporate decision to reform political funding?

CO in Delhi air prime concern

The biggest worry for Delhi as far as air pollution goes seems to be carbon monoxide, followed closely by particulate matter.

The first day of the air pollution monitoring and forecasting system, which has been set up specially for the Commonwealth Games, threw up these results on Thursday. Six venues, including Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Indira Gandhi Stadium and the Commonwealth Games Village had moderately high levels of CO while the IGI Airport showed worryingly high levels of PM 2.5, scoring 300 on the air quality index of 1-500.

The Thyagaraj Stadium, that till 6.30pm was showing a moderately high level of PM 2.5, also indicated a moderately high level of ozone by 9.30pm. The project, set up by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, was inaugurated on Wednesday. Officials said the rainfall in Delhi had so far been taking care of its pollution level but the actual picture would only become clear once the rain stopped.

"It is not surprising that Delhi is facing a problem with CO since it is one of the major emissions from motor vehicles and Delhi has just too many of them. Particulate matter is also result of high number of vehicles. Levels of most pollutants could also have been high on Thursday since it did not rain and the sun was out for a short while in the day. The airport is showing high level of pollution due to large number of aircraft,'' said an official.

IITM has set up 11 monitoring stations across the city. The Indian Meteorological Department's website on weather forecasting and nowcasting was also functional except that it was showing technical data which, officials said, would be used by concerned Games departments.

"The basic weather model data has been made available on the website, including information for each venue. However, it would need to be interpreted in layman's language and added to the website for common use. This would happen either by Friday or next week,'' said S C Bhan, director, IMD.

Survey in UK, Canada shows few headed for CWG

It's not exactly the international endorsement that Delhi was looking for when it decided to host the Delhi Games 2010. In a recent survey by the travel portal TripAdvisor, 93% of the respondents surveyed said the Commonwealth Games 2010 were of no interest to them. More damagingly, a whopping 56.7% felt that Delhi was not the right choice to host the sporting event.

The survey results come in the backdrop of increasing negative public opinion over the way the Games are being conducted. As controversies surround the event, interest over the mega sports event has been steadily going down. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is not confined to India, as evinced by the survey.

Said Sharat Dhall, managing director, TripAdvisor India, "There has been a lot of interest in the Games in India. So, we wanted to find out what the international travelling community thought of the Delhi Games 2010, and commissioned the survey."

Conducted over a 15-day period, the survey — which was completed on September 14 and included 635 responses — questioned travellers from the UK and Canada. Both countries are part of the Commonwealth and traditionally have a large number of tourists coming to India for holiday every year.

The survey results are, however, a mix of expected and some outright surprises, admits Dhall. The fact that 93.5% are not interested in coming to Delhi is not the surprising bit, says Dhall, but the fact that a large number don't believe that Delhi is the right choice is a surprise. "The image of the city has taken a beating, especially in the backdrop of the government's inability to project the works it has done to make the city better," adds Dhall.

That's not all. 30% were not interested in the Games while 25% planned to travel to other destinations. Predictably, 14% were concerned about the security during the Games. Bad news for Delhi is that 7% thought Delhi will not offer a great experience. Interestingly, 1.6% — a small percentage admittedly — felt that the pullout by top athletes and sportspersons made the Delhi Games uninteresting. Good news: 10% were planning to come to Delhi, which should cheer up the hospitality sector somewhat.

The silver lining is that a majority of travellers surveyed — over 68% — were aware of the Commonwealth Games being held in Delhi. Also, 54.3% of the respondent were not aware/had not heard about the alleged corruption related to the Games. As Dhall said, "At least, people were aware of the CWG being in Delhi." With both Indians as well as the international community getting disenchanted with the Games, that may be small consolation indeed.

Delhi gave $10m kickbacks

AUSTRALIA received a $125,000 kickback after India won the Commonwealth Games rights from a $10 million palm-greasing exercise that may yet backfire.
As Commonweaalth Games officials last night held an emergency meeting to save the event from a mass international pullout, it has been revealed Delhi sealed the right to host the Games when its delegates offered all 72 nations at the final presentation in Jamaica $US100,000 (then worth about $140,000) each for training schemes if the Indian city was successful.

The money, subsequently paid to all nations, was not significant to Australia because it had already decided to vote for India and the payment was not an exceptionally large one.

But for small nations, who have only minimal interest in the Games, it clinched their support and India went on to beat Canadian city Hamilton 46-22 in the final vote in November, 2003.

Hamilton had earlier offered the nations about $70,000 each.

"I think you can safely say the kinds of issues they (Delhi) are experiencing wouldn't have happened if it were here," Hamilton bid chairman Jagoda Pike said yesterday.

The Commonwealth Games Association has banned eleventh-hour inducements following the outrage over India's tactics.

"We agree with that (no more inducements) decision because you have to be transparent," Australian Commonwealth Games Association president Sam Coffa told The Advertiser from Turkey last night.

He has mixed emotions about Delhi's plight but has no regrets about supporting their Games bid.

"I still think they can pull it off  ... if I have any regrets it is that the Commonwealth Games Federation did not act sooner to get things in hand," he said.

The Gold Coast consortium, who are hoping to host the 2018 Games, have been told they must include all details of their bid in a proposal by May next year. Indian officials were yesterday confronted by a joint letter signed by eight countries demanding security and hygiene concerns be met or they will refuse to compete.

Emergency crisis talks were under way last night between the head of the Commonwealth Games Federation Michael Fennell and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and ministers Jaipal Reddy and M.S. Gill.

"We agree with that (no more inducements) decision because you have to be transparent," Australian Commonwealth Games Association president Sam Coffa told The Advertiser from Turkey last night.

 He has mixed emotions about Delhi's plight but has no regrets about supporting their Games bid.

 "I still think they can pull it off. If I have any regrets it is that the Commonwealth Games Federation did not act sooner to get things in hand.

Clegg calls for urgent assurances on Commonwealth Games preparation

Progress is needed “pretty urgently” to provide assurances that the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi will be a success, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said today.

Mr Clegg pledged “every support” to the Indian government as the country battles to complete preparations ahead of the opening ceremony in 10 days’ time.

Amid concerns about the state of athletes’ accommodation and the safety of facilities, the Deputy Prime Minister said the situation needed monitoring “carefully” but that he was not telling teams to stay away from India.

Several participating nations have delayed the departure of their athletes while others are waiting for assurances the issues will be resolved before the Games open on October 3.

During a series of interviews in Washington on his first trip to the US as Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Clegg said he could understand why people were “very concerned”.

“We are not saying to people now, ’Don’t go’, we are saying that this needs to be looked at carefully, that we all want the Commonwealth Games to be a success,” he said.

“Clearly something needs to happen pretty urgently to give people the confidence that it is going to be a success.”

He added: “We all want to make sure that every support is given to the Indian government to try to turn this around, get things right, give the athletes the confidence – not to mention everybody looking at the Games – that it will be, after all, a successful Games.”

Earlier a prominent member of the Games organising committee apologised for a “collective failure” in preparations.

The committee has come under fire over the past few days, not only over reports of “filthy” living conditions in the athletes’ village but also faulty infrastructure around the facilities – criticisms which intensified when a bridge linking a car park and the main stadium collapsed on Tuesday, injuring up to 23 constructors.

Yesterday further fears were raised when part of a ceiling in the weightlifting arena fell in.

The first English athletes are due to fly to New Delhi tonight, despite England having joined with seven other major countries in demanding written reassurances from India over safety and conditions.

Indian players voice concern over Commonwealth Games

Several Indian sportspersons have expressed their anxiety over constant complaints about the ensuing Commonwealth Games to be staged in New Delhi.

Saina Nehwal, the Indian badminton champion, presently ranked number 3 in the world too shared these sentiments on the sidelines of a function at Mumbai on Thursday.

The games have been in controversy with pullout of International sportspersons, citing reasons of hygiene and security.

Photographs and videos of animal footprints on the bed, excreta on the racetrack and disabled lavatories came as a rude shock to the Indian government and the organisers of the games in particular.

The footbridge that collapsed a couple of days ago near the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, the main venue for the track and field events as well as the opening and closing ceremonies has supplemented the worries of the Organising committee.

A day later, a portion of the false ceiling at the weightlifting arena further raised the controversy over the quality of construction.

In the backdrop of these trends, Saina Nehwal said the pullout of international champions citing lack of hygiene and security was very disappointing.

"It does not look good when such issues do the rounds like the pullout of international players. Finally, my work is to go there and play well but it will only look better when we face a tough competition and all sportspersons come to play," Nehwal said.

"Sometimes it makes me sad but at the same time it makes me happy because we hosting such a huge tournament. So, the expectations are that players who are better than us come to play and the players from abroad give us a tough fight as well. That's is when spectators want to come and watch us play," said Saina Nehwal, badminton player," she added.

Players from other cities too expressed similar views over the callous role of administration towards the games.

For instance, Chandigarh-based Sabeeha Dhillon, an ace shooter observed the excessive amount of negative reporting in the Indian and international media was not proving to be of any help.

"Why are we cribbing now when the games are right on our head? These things should be taken care of at the base level, not at the level when almost everything is done. You cannot do anything right now," Dhillon said.

"The best part is to do when anyone is constructing, whenever the government is doing anything, one should check there and then in the beginning, what exactly are the steps to be taken, where is the money and the funds are going. Instead of cribbing at the later end when everything is done," she added.

"Now our people are saying this has been done wrong, things are falling, and people are dying. Why are you cribbing now? You should have said things a year back or two years back when all of it started," noted Sabeeha Dhillon, champion shooter," Dhillon said.

The event, already the most expensive Commonwealth Games ever with official estimates of three billion dollars, has been marred by charges of rampant corruption, dubious contracts and poor workmanship in the past few months.

Apart from around 10,000 athletes from 71 teams representing 54 Commonwealth member states, New Delhi is expecting a huge influx of sports enthusiasts and tourists during the games.

On Thursday, more nations delayed their teams' arrivals for the games as organisers raced against time to address security and health concerns of the participants.

New Zealand joined Canada and Scotland in delaying its arrival in New Delhi due to what it termed as poor accommodation for athletes, compounded by heavy monsoon rains.

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.

India is doing its best to hold Commonwealth Games: Journalist

India, within the limitations of its financial resources, workforce skills, pressing competing demands and probable corruption, has done the best it can to organize the XIXth Commonwealth Games in Delhi, feels a senior journalist.

Andrew Stevenson, a senior writer, who will be in India to cover the Commonwealth Games for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, says that while the event may not be as good as it would have been in Edinburgh, Adelaide or Auckland, people from all walks of life coming to see the games and India, should savor the moment and "make the best of whatever happens".

He says professional sporting competitions have been pushed - by nationalism, science, government funding and private sponsorship - to a level beyond the ken of normal people in even advanced nations in the West, with athletes devoting years of their lives to improving their performance.

He says such competitions are a "world beyond ours", but still a world of people whose hearts beat with the same dreams as ours and who take great pleasure from the nations of the Commonwealth taking part in their games."

He says that the inevitable question will always be asked about whether the Commonwealth Games should be held or whether it should be continued.

The answer to that, he says is "that its stature has diminished by ever-expanding international competition and world championships."

"But it is a different question than whether we should refuse, at the very last moment, the invitation to compete to Delhi," he concludes.

Delhi not first city to be scrutinized for holding major sporting event

Delhi is not the first host of a major sporting event to come under intense scrutiny in the build-up to the opening ceremony and the start of competition.

According to a report in The Scotsman, a nation hosting any event of international significance attracts increasing media attention, as has Delhi for the alleged preparatory mess connected to the XIXth Commonwealth Games.

For instance, the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, saw delighted Greeks welcoming the Games as homecoming after two millennia.

But the original estimate cost of one billion pounds soon tripled, and the roof of the main stadium was completed only three months before the opening ceremony was due to take place.

The roof for the swimming pool was abandoned, so competitors had to cope with sweltering heat, while the city also struggled to implement transport projects as traffic in Athens is often near gridlock.

The International Olympic Committee was perhaps more forgiving about the situation than the Commonwealth Games Federation appears to be about India's current predicament.

One IOC member said at the time: "The truth is Mediterranean countries are pretty relaxed about meeting deadlines.

"If you look back at Sydney they were probably over-staffed, marginally over-efficient and a little too early. That is not the Greek way."

Edinburgh experienced its own problems when hosting the 1986 Commmonwealth Games when 32 nations, mainly from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, withdrew because of England's links with South Africa.

The boycott, together with a lack of sponsorship and additional security costs, left organizers facing a four million pound cash deficit and it was left to the late newspaper baron Robert Maxwell to bail out the games.

By comparison with Delhi, Asia's first Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur was a huge success, attracting record numbers of participants and TV audiences.

Beijing's Olympic Games also suffered its fair share of controversy, but none relating to buildings and infrastructure. Critics said that thousands of people were displaced by construction projects.

Australia sending elite police squad to boost its athletes’ security at CWG

Concerned about security arrangements for the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, Australia is rushing its elite police squadron to safeguard its players and officials.

Earlier, the Australian Government had warned its citizens about the dangers of buildings in Delhi, after the collapse of a bridge near the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, the main venue for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

"Our team will effectively be locked down - unable to visit any public places or use public transport," The Herald Sun quoted a source, as saying.

With the Australian Government expecting more athletes to pull out of the Commonwealth Games, about 15 Australian Federal Police officers will provide a high-level security cordon, though unarmed, after Sunday's shooting incident near the Jama Masjid in the walled city of Delhi.

Canada orders CWG athletes to delay trip to New Delhi

Canada Wednesday told some of its athletes to delay their journey to New Delhi for the Commonwealth Games beginning Oct 3, saying a decision will be taken once it is confident their sportspersons are ’safe and healthy’.

The Canadian women’s field hockey team, three shooters and several members of the delegation’s mission staff were scheduled to leave for New Delhi Thursday, the media reported here.

Commonwealth Games Canada said the athletes will not be departing for Delhi as scheduled.

‘We cannot put (athletes) in rooms unless we are confident they are safe and healthy,’ Canadian chef de mission Martha Deacon told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

He said Canadian Commonwealth Games officials are monitoring the situation and will decide whether Canadian athletes should go to Delhi.

‘We have to review that in the next couple of days, and we’re keeping a very close pulse on (questions of) is this safe, is this meaningful, is this going to be an experience we promised our athletes and coaches… and that becomes the 64 million dollar question.’

The decision has been taken as New Delhi is still scrambling to improve conditions at the athletes village as demanded by many nations, including Canada, Scotland, New Zealand and Britain.

Canadian officials said the accommodation in the Games village was still not in a liveable condition.

Reacting to withdrawal of two world champions – Australian discus thrower Dani Samuels and England triple jumper Phillips Idowu – from the Games, Canadian shot putter gold medal favourite Dylan Armstrong said the withdrawals may have a domino effect with more athletes pulling out of the Games.

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