Commonwealth Games: A scramble to fix things

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Commonwealth Games: A scramble to fix things

NEW DELHI - With athletes trickling into New Delhi and cleaning crews rushing to scour their rooms, the Commonwealth Games chief said India was working hard to ensure it is prepared to host the beleaguered sporting event - though much remains to be done.

Talk emerged over the past week of postponing or canceling the games after a footbridge collapsed, two tourists were shot and the athletes’ village was found to be filthy. But that discussion dissipated after the government poured enormous resources into urgently addressing the problems before the opening ceremonies on Oct. 3.

Commonwealth Games Federation President Mike Fennell - on an emergency trip here to address the problems - told reporters that significant work had been done in recent days.

``There’s still a lot of work to be done, to do the final touches, and there’s more work in the village. It’s not over yet,’’ he said.

Among the ongoing concerns was water remaining in the basements in the athletes’ village, transportation and technology difficulties and issues with security and fire safety, he said.

The multisport games, held every four years, bring together competitors from across the former British empire.

In an effort to dispel worries about New Delhi’s readiness to host nearly 7,000 athletes and officials from 71 countries and territories, organizers took ambassadors and journalists on a tour of the games village, where workers were cleaning the area and painters were providing last-minute touch-ups.

The tour included a huge international area, housing a dining room with African, Asian, Chinese and continental cuisine, a practice wrestling hall, a practice weightlifting hall, an elaborate gymnasium that can accommodate 120 athletes at a time, a swimming pool and a track and field area.

The rooms and bathrooms shown to reporters were clean and stray dogs that were reportedly roaming the grounds last week were not in sight.

The back side of the complex and a huge basement reportedly filled with water were not part of the tour.

Delhi Health Minister Kiran Walia, riding around in a golf cart, said the mosquito-borne dengue virus remained a concern, but “we have things in control.’’

Australian High Commissioner Peter Varghese, however, didn’t appear to be too impressed with the village.

“Obviously, you have to keep at it to make the village good enough to receive athletes,’’ he said.

Despite the problems, athletes and team officials continued to arrive in the city Saturday, with the delegation from Trinidad and Tobago, and athletes from the Isle of Man and Guyana, joining a group of English athletes who had arrived the day before.

Several teams that had delayed their trips here - including Scotland and New Zealand - have confirmed their athletes will be attending.

“I am very happy that today we are recording that there will be full participation in the games,’’ Fennell said.

The games were meant to be a coming-out party for India to cement its reputation as a growing regional power.

Instead, the nation’s reputation has been battered by negative publicity about its frantic, last-minute efforts to get ready for an event it knew it was hosting seven years ago.

Concerns about the viability of the games emerged this week after a pedestrian bridge leading to the main stadium collapsed, reports from team officials that the village was a mess and two tourists were shot and wounded on Sept. 19 outside one of New Delhi’s top attractions.

A Muslim militant group took responsibility for the shooting.

The government reacted swiftly. Police roadblocks and teams of soldiers with assault rifles have been deployed in the capital, army engineers have been sent in to rebuild the footbridge and Delhi’s chief minister took charge of the games village and sent as many as 1,000 workers in to clean it.

“While it was very sad that much of this work has not been done before ... the efforts are paying off, and we have to ensure that it’s completed and sustained right throughout the games,’’ Fennell said.

Suresh Kalmadi, who as head of the local organizing committee has come under massive criticism for the problems, said he was certain everything would be complete in time.

``There’s still eight days left for the games to happen, and we will, in the next couple of days, three days, finish all the work that needs to be done,’’ he said. AP

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