Commonwealth Games safety fears remain

With just a week to go until the beginning of the event, the Commonwealth Games Federation chief has admitted work still needs to be done on security.

Safety still a concern but all 71 countries will attend, chief says Krittivas Mukherjee NEW DELHI // The Commonwealth Games Federation chief admitted yesterday that work still needs to be done on security, but added that India's showcase event would go ahead next week with all countries taking part. Several athletes have pulled out of the Games, which have been plagued by filthy accommodation, shoddy construction and security fears. The Indian government is rushing to ensure all is ready before the opening next Sunday.

"There is still a lot of work to be done and it's not over yet," Michael Fennell, head of the federation, said one day after he visited the Games Village. "What is of great concern is the safety and security of athletes and officials. There will be full participation in the games. All 71 countries will be attending." Athletes from Scotland were to begin travelling to New Delhi yesterday, while Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Northern Ireland and Wales have all confirmed that they were satisfied with preparations to send their teams.

The Games, held every four years for mostly former British colonies, were estimated to have cost US$6 billion (Dh22bn). Asia's third-largest economy was awarded them in 2003, but did not begin proper preparations until two years ago. India had hoped to use the Games to display its growing global economic and political influence, rivalling China, which put on a spectacular Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008.

Instead, they have become a major embarrassment for India, where infrastructure projects have remained slow and a drag on economic growth. "A lot of damage has been done to India as a country," Mr Fennell said. Analysts said investment in India could be damaged. "The negative publicity could deter foreign investment and give multinational businesses considering expanding in India reason to think twice," Moody's Analytics said.

The first batch of athletes arrived in India on Friday and opted to stay at a hotel. Desperate officials on Friday asked the Indian army to build a temporary bridge to replace the $1.1 million footbridge that collapsed on Tuesday. The bridge, which will provide access to the main Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, should be finished within five days. The bridge collapse and a suspected militant attack on two foreign visitors had thrown the Games into crisis. An outbreak of dengue has compounded worries.

Mr Fennell said the work that needed to be done was quite extensive. "These centre around the clean-up of the [Games] village … You can see where there has been water in the basement, and this has proven very difficult to remove," he said. "There are matters relating to transport, and difficulties there, the security arrangements, the fire safety arrangements, evacuation of the buildings and certification of the buildings, the technological difficulties such as Wi-Fi service."

While the Indian Organising Committee has been at the receiving end of much of the flak, there is rising criticism of the Commonwealth Games Federation as well. Mr Fennell said much of the problem was because of the organising committee's failure to understand the complexities of holding the event in India. "We all must share the blame," he told the CNN-IBN news channel in an interview. Greg Henderson, a cyclist, became the first New Zealand athlete to withdraw. The Olympic cycling champion Geraint Thomas, two English riders and one rider from Isle of Man also opted out.

The New Delhi Games may turn out to be the most compromised since 1986 when 32 countries boycotted the event in Edinburgh because of the Thatcher government's objections to sanctions against apartheid-riven South Africa. * Reuters