Games chief flies in for summit with Indian leader

Click to follow

The head of the international organisation that controls the Commonwealth Games is today to arrive in Delhi for face-to-face crisis talks with India's Prime Minister in an attempt to salvage a situation rapidly descending into chaos and farce.

With athletes due to start arriving in this monsoon-lashed city 24 hours from now, Mike Fennell has requested a meeting with Manmohan Singh to see if anything be done to ensure the completion of facilities and accommodation as competing nations weigh up whether to cancel their participation.

Such is the level of concern over security, safety and hygiene that at least two nations have already delayed their teams' departures for India. The Scottish team had been due to fly to India today but decided to postpone its flight by several days to give organisers a chance to "address the concerns". The collapse yesterday of parts of the ceiling in the weightlifting venue, located at the Games' main stadium, did nothing to ease anxiety. The Canadian team was also reported to have delayed its arrival, while Welsh officials gave organisers a deadline of last night to guarantee that "all venues and the Games Village are fit for purpose".

"The health and safety of our team has always been our top priority – which is why we've been so desperate to resolve the issues in the Games Village," added a statement issued by the Welsh team. "With yesterday's news of the bridge collapse and now the roof of the weightlifting venue, we have to take a step back and examine how safe it is to bring athletes into this environment."

Meanwhile, the English team, along with many other of the 71 national squads due to compete, is monitoring the situation by the hour. Britain's Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said it was up to the athletes to decide whether to participate but said time was running short.

Craig Hunter, England's chef de mission, added: "It's hard to cancel an event of this magnitude, but we are close to the wire, and teams may start to take things into their own hands. Athletes will start getting on planes soon and decisions will have to be made. We need new levels of reassurance."

Quite where that will come from is unclear. Indian officials have sought to underplay concerns raised by competing nations and have even gone as far as to suggest that worries about cleanliness standards were the result of different cultural perspectives.

Preparations for the event, which had been expected to attract more than 7,000 athletes and officials, have been marred by widespread allegations of corruption, mismanagement and delay. Some analysts believe one factor to blame has been hubris of senior Indian officials who all but refused to take advice from international experts involved in previous events. Last year, local organisers sought to have the Commonwealth Games Federation's chief executive, Mike Hooper, expelled from India.

Of critical concern now will be what emerges from any meeting between Mr Fennell and the Indian Prime Minister. Officials have already said they can satisfy concerns over hygiene and cleanliness at the athletes' village – visiting delegations apparently discovered human excrement deposited within the apartments – but if they cannot, they will try to find alternative accommodation for athletes in international-standard hotels.

Beyond that, teams will need to be satisfied that the safety of the venues can be assured and that security will be taken care of. Around 50 athletes – among them the sprinter Usain Bolt – have already said they will not participate, mostly because of health or security concerns.

Comments