NEW DELHI: New controversy engulfed India’s Commonwealth Games yesterday with warnings that the event was in peril with just a fortnight to go owing to filthy, unfinished accommodation for athletes.
India, which wanted to use the gathering of former British colonies to showcase itself on the international stage, was forced back on the defensive with participants already anxious about security and barely built stadiums.
Mike Hooper, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, delivered stinging criticism about the athletes’ residential towers likely to embarrass the government, which has admitted that the country’s prestige is on the line.
“They’re filthy. You can’t occupy them. They need a deep clean. There’s builders’ dust and rubble in doorways, shower doors the wrong way round, toilets that don’t work,” he said just two days before athletes begin arriving.
There was also “excrement in places it shouldn’t be”, referring to problems thought to be the result of thousands of labourers using the toilets in the “certainly uninhabitable” tower blocks.
Complaints about cleanliness, plumbing and electrics were also made by other countries that have arrived early in the Indian capital ahead of the start of the multi-sport event on Oct 3-14.
“The reality is that if the village is not ready and athletes can’t come, the implications are that it’s not going to happen,” New Zealand chef de mission Dave Currie told New Zealand commercial radio.
“It’s pretty grim really and certainly disappointing when you consider the amount of time they had to prepare.”
A statement from the Scottish team said they had been allocated accommodation that was “far from finished and in their view, unsafe and unfit for human habitation.”
Since then, they have been moved to another block but have had to clean the seven-story tower block “from top to bottom themselves with assistance from Delhi Games volunteers”, according to a statement reported by the BBC and STV.
The president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Michael Fennell, opened the criticism with a damning statement early yesterday that said several nations had been “shocked” by the “seriously compromised” village.
The Games are already mired in huge cost over-runs, worries about dengue-bearing mosquitoes and corruption allegations, and India faces unflattering comparisons with China’s successful hosting of the 2008 Olympics.
This week saw warnings that foreign athletes worried about militant extremism might pull out after a shooting outside New Delhi’s largest mosque on Sunday.
Organising committee vice-chairman Randhir Singh insisted: “I can assure everyone there is no cause for worry. Delegates have praised the village as one of the best.
“We are working round the clock to take care of any problems. When the athletes arrive here, they will find an excellent facility,” he told reporters.
India was also backed by Malaysia, who are sending nearly 300 athletes.
“Once the Games start, everything will settle down,” Olympic Council of Malaysia secretary Sieh Kok Chi told AFP. “I am confident the Indians will do a great job. We must encourage them and not undermine their confidence.”
Fennell did stress that security was finally in place around the Games venues, following Sunday’s gun attack, which wounded two Taiwanese visitors.
But a Games construction contractor, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, said the strict security was hampering efforts to get facilities ready in time because trucks were being held up for hours for inspections.
The Commonwealth Games will bring together 7,000 athletes and officials from countries of the former British empire.
The last time India hosted a major international sporting event was the Asian Games in 1982.
The village was partly opened last week, with the practice area and canteen praised by Hooper and the England team for being of Olympic standard. — AFP
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