English team fly to crisis-hit Games

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The Independent Online

An advance party of English athletes will arrive in Delhi today despite safety and accommodation concerns that could see the team pull out of the crisis-hit Commonwealth Games.

Sir Andrew Foster, chairman of Commonwealth Games England, said last night that a final decision over participation will be made in the coming days, but as it stands the team remained "intent on going".

And in a move that will come as a relief to tournament organisers, England announced yesterday that 22 athletes, including members of the men's hockey and bowls teams, would arrive in the host city today as planned.

But assurances will still be needed over the athletes' village and safety of all arenas, Sir Andrew added.

He said that the situation will be monitored and that "all options remain open".

The ultimate option would be pulling out of the tournament entirely but Sir Andrew said Team England was not at that point yet.

On Tuesday, 20 people were injured in Delhi when a footbridge at the Jawaharlal Nehru complex - the centrepiece of the games - collapsed.

And yesterday, part of the ceiling at the weightlifting arena fell in.

In addition, a number of teams have complained about the state of the Games Village which will house the athletes.

Sir Andrew said: "We remain very concerned about the situation and we will monitor it on an absolutely regular day-by-day basis."

He continued: "The residential accommodation is still some way short of what we need and require.

"We need to have an assurance from our people in Delhi that they bring it up to the standards that are required.

"We also need to have people in India give an absolutely clear statement about the status of the different stadiums.

"These are the requirements that we have for our team to compete."

A final decision would have to be made one way or another "in the next few days", the chairman said.

"All options remain open, but at the moment we are still intent on going," Sir Andrew added.

Among the options being considered is a delay in sending athletes out. Team Scotland has already said it has pushed back departures due to accommodation in India that has been described as "unfit for human habitation".

If organisers fail to give the required assurances to Team England bosses, there is the chance that athletes may be pulled out of the games entirely.

Sir Andrew warned: "The ultimate option is we do not go."

But he added: "We are not there yet."

Safety fears have already taken their toll on the games.

British triple jumper Phillips Idowu is amongst those who has said they will not appear.

Sir Andrew said yesterday that it was possible that others from the England team may follow suit.

"There must be a likelihood that some athletes will not go," he said.

Retired decathlete Dean Macey, who won gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, said that though he understood why some athletes had pulled out, he was also supportive of those who were still going.

He told ITV's Daybreak programme: "If I was in their position, I probably would literally stick the Marigolds on and get over there and do the business.

"But at the same token, you have to ask questions how it's got to this issue, this state of affairs, with two weeks left."

He added: "India is a proud country, they certainly won't be enjoying this publicity, but it gives them a global TV screen to turn it around and to show everyone that they can deliver - it's pretty tight, mind you."

Businessman Lord Bilimoria, who recently visited some of the venues, told BBC Breakfast: "If I were an athlete, I would be going."

He said there had been concerns about delays for a year now and the whole of India was "very saddened" and "ashamed" about the situation.

"I have spoken to the Indian government yesterday - 1,000 people have been put on the site to complete the 16 buildings that are not yet ready. They are confident that the village will be ready in time, everything's being thrown at it.

"The prime minister himself, I've heard this morning, has taken personal control over the situation, and the venues themselves, I believe, are actually, on the whole, ready for the event."

Asked about security, he said: "Security is an issue around the world. We live, sadly, under that threat right here."

He hoped everything would be "all right on the night" and said that whether to travel is an individual decision for each athlete.

Sir Andrew said later he thought "massive resources" would have to be deployed if the games were to go ahead.

"We believe it's probably just about do-able if they throw massive resources at it and are very,very focused. We will be monitoring it on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis.

"I think they could do it, if they were really focused."