Extensive work remains to be done on the crisis-hit Delhi Commonwealth Games with barely a week to go, federation chief Mike Fennell said on Saturday, warning of the damage done to India’s image.
While acknowledging that a “massive” effort had been made in recent days to address the multiple problems surrounding the October 3-14 event, Fennell voiced concerns on a wide range of issues including athletes’ safety.
“The work left to be done is quite extensive,” said Fennell, who toured the athletes’ village on Friday.
At a press briefing in the Indian capital, he listed problems with transport, security arrangements, fire and evacuation procedures and medical services.
“There’s a lot of work to be done in the Games. It’s not over yet,” he said.
“What is clear is that the massive work that is being done now ought to have been done before.”
Cameroon’s chef de mission David Ojong said he remained uncertain whether the village would be up to standard as teams pour in over the next week.
“The accommodation was so dirty and just uncompleted when we arrived three days ago,” Ojong said. “Improvements have been fast, but we need conditions to keep on getting better every day.”
Workers were racing to fix problems relating to water connections and electrical fittings at more than 100 flats in the village, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
The Games, aimed at highlighting India’s ambitions as an emerging superpower, had seemed on the brink of collapse a few days ago, amid worries about security, a footbridge falling down and complaints about the “filthy” state of the village.
On Saturday, an army engineering regiment began building a prefabricated steel walkway to replace the showpiece footbridge to the main stadium that collapsed earlier in the week, causing major embarrassment to Games organisers.
While the Games were set to go ahead, a string of big-name athletes have pulled out, many of them citing concerns about the presence of mosquito-borne dengue fever, while numerous teams delayed their arrival in New Delhi.
Two Australian athletes pulled out citing security and health concerns, team officials said on Sunday.
Cyclist Travis Meyer and table tennis player Stephanie Sang took to three the number of Australians to pull out from the multi-sports event.
Australian Commonwealth Games chief Perry Crosswhite said while he was disappointed in the withdrawals just a week before the Games he respected their decisions.
Among the stars to withdraw over security or health concerns are Australian world discus champion Dani Samuels, English Olympic 400m gold medallist Christine Ohuruogu and world triple jump champion Phillips Idowu, also of England.
Olympic medallist Eamon Sullivan told reporters in Sydney that Australia’s swimmers were well prepared to combat the outbreak of dengue fever.
“We’ve got mosquito nets, we’ve got mosquito repellent, we’ve got long-sleeve clothes, we’ve got wash that puts repellent on your clothes, we’ve got hand sanitizer, we’ve got the works,” Sullivan said.
Some 2,728 people are suffering from dengue in New Delhi with another 97 new cases announced on Friday. However, many cases are believed to be unreported.
Fennell stressed that cancelling the Games was “never on our agenda” and said all 71 teams had now confirmed their participation.
“A lot has been put right. The efforts of all people should be applauded,” he said. “Now we have to ensure that it is completed and sustained right throughout the Games.”
Sitting next to Suresh Kalmadi, the embattled chairman of the Indian organising committee, who has borne the brunt of public criticism for what the local press has dubbed the “Shame Games”, Fennell declined to focus the blame on any individual.
“I don’t think there can be any question that we have to share blame and responsibility,” he said.
New Delhi had been expecting 7,000 athletes and officials for the showpiece for Commonwealth countries, mostly nations and territories formerly in the British empire.
While arguing that it was now time to celebrate the athletes who were taking part, Fennell acknowledged that the fiasco of recent weeks had badly affected India’s international image.
“I think a lot of damage has been done to India as a country. People are questioning whether we should have come to India,” he said.
“I would hope that at the end of all of this, India would have learned a great lesson and we also would have learned a great lesson working with a country like India.”
In a recent online poll by the Times of India, 97 percent of respondents said India’s image had been tarnished by the Games chaos.