CGames: Clock ticks down on Delhi

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The Independent Online

The clock ticked down on the Delhi Commonwealth Games on Tuesday with signs that conditions in the much-criticised athletes' village were finally improving as hundreds of competitors arrive.

Australia, one of the countries that had slammed the village last week, said organisers were working hard to improve the state of facilities just five days before the start of the event.

"It's pretty good," Lynsey Armitage, a member of the Australian lawn bowls team, told reporters. "I've been here for the last two days. The dining hall is fantastic."

South Africa too said the first contingent from its 150-strong squad would move into the village on Tuesday after the facilities had been passed as fit by the team leader.

"The athletes are very happy with the reception they've got so far," spokesman Mark Keohane told AFP, referring to the first batch of competitors who arrived Monday and spent their first night in a hotel.

There was possibly more bad news for the athletics competition, however, which has already been hit by pull-outs and no-shows from the biggest world crowd-pullers such as Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.

Caster Semenya, the South African 800-metre gold medallist, was expected to lend some star-power to the Games' line-up, but her coach was quoted as saying Monday that she was struggling with a back injury and was now a doubt.

The showpiece multi-sport event, which opens on Sunday, had teetered on the brink of collapse last Tuesday when some nations threatened to pull out amid worries about security, a bridge falling down and the state of the facilities.

Problems plaguing the Games range from shabby accommodation to security fears, an outbreak of mosquito-borne dengue fever, and doubts about the quality and safety of venues and infrastructure.

In a desperate bid to finish work on time, an army of manual workers has been drafted in to tackle uncompleted apartments, dirty toilets and heaps of builders' rubbish at the village.

Organisers have promised that all the accommodation will be finished by Wednesday and that full security is now in place to protect venues and participants.

Tens of thousands of paramilitary troops and police are deployed in India's capital carrying out armed foot patrols and manning bunkers amid a huge security operation for the Commonwealth Games.

Since the devastating Mumbai attacks of 2008, when Pakistan-based Islamist militants killed 166 people in a 60-hour assault, India has been fearful that the Commonwealth Games could be a high-profile target for attack.

With the opening ceremony looming, 17,000 paramilitary troopers are on duty reinforcing 80,000 city police.

Sharelle McMahon, a Commonwealth Games veteran who first competed in the 1998 Games in Kuala Lumpur, said she was surprised by the number of police armed with machine guns but was still optimistic about the event.

"It is certainly a different experience. We were really excited last night to arrive here," the 32-year-old captain of Australia's netball team told AFP.