Massive clean-up saves Games for India as key nations get back on track
Hundreds of extra workers sent to Delhi ahead of teams' arrival
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Friday 24 September 2010
India appeared to have narrowly escaped its Commonwealth Games crisis last night as a number of key nations took a leap of faith and committed themselves to flying to Delhi and participating in the competition.
While intense concerns remained both over security and the conditions inside the athletes' village – images released yesterday from inside the apartments showed filthy bathrooms and stained bedspreads – the English and Welsh teams announced they would be participating.
The Scottish squad said it had been heartened by developments in India over the past 48 hours and is this morning expected to announce it will travel to India. A reported 1,500 workers have been sent to the Games village to clean up the accommodation blocks that that the Scottish team had previously described as "unfit for human habitation".
An advance party of the English team was due to arrive in Delhi last night while Kenya announced its 240-strong squad would start arriving from tomorrow, having received security assurances from the Indian authorities. South African athletes are also coming to India as scheduled.
England's team organisers said in a statement last night that their concerns were being met, meaning that the athletes would travel: "Commonwealth Games England and its 17 member sports today unanimously agreed that they will go to the Delhi Games."
A spokesman for the Scottish team, Jon Doig said: "We are heartened that [Delhi chief minister] Sheila Dikshit has personally taken control of the situation and ensuring that the necessary additional resources are brought in, including support from the Delhi hoteliers association to address standards of cleanliness and hygiene and oversee quality control."
He added: "Things are looking much better. Therefore subject to a number of assurances from the organising committee being realised over the next 24 hours, we feel we will be in a position to confirm [on Friday] that our team will travel as scheduled on Saturday."
The Wales team said: "We are confident in the assurances that have been provided. The advance party will now be moving into our accommodation and we look forward to welcoming our athletes in the coming days."
Ten days before the games are due to start there is lots that could still go wrong. Another accident like the collapsing footbridge this week or an incident like the shooting of two foreign tourists last weekend, could yet persuade many individual athletes, or even entire teams, not to participate.
Security remains a major concern. Bob Nicholls, a South African security specialist who has worked with the Indian Premier League cricket tournament and who will be advising organisers of the cricket world cup in India next year, said the longer work took to complete the facilities the more difficult it was to secure them. "Security is one aspect of the Games that has been a concern all along. You can only create a sterile zone once all the building work is completed and the delays make it very, very difficult to do that.
"It is more difficult to keep it secure when you have large numbers of people coming in and out of the venues," he said. "Because of what the games represent, they are always going to be a potential target. Wherever it is held there will be a certain threat level." Asked about the scale of the security problem, he replied: "It will be a huge challenge."
A number of training areas and reception facilities also remain incomplete and so-called "beautification", the effort to smarten up those parts of Delhi most likely to be seen by visitors, is way off schedule. Yet the fear that the games themselves could be cancelled appears to have eased. Taken collectively, the individual threats raised by various countries that they might cancel their involvement appears to have kicked the very highest levels of the Indian establishment into action.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last night chaired an emergency meeting of his cabinet while Commonwealth Games Federation chairman, Mike Fennell, arrived in the city for meetings.
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