Team England lost another two volunteers for the Commonwealth Games cause yesterday but last night they declared victory in their battle to send a squad of athletes into competitive action in Delhi at the end of next week. After Ian Stannard and Ben Swift joined fellow cyclists Geraint Thomas of Wales and Peter Kennaugh of the Isle of Man in withdrawing from the quadrennial sporting event because of health concerns, officials announced that England would be travelling to the Games with a full complement of sports.
The news came as the first wave of English athletes, the lawn bowls team and the hockey squad, departed for Delhi. It followed strong indications earlier in the day that Scotland and Wales would also be giving the green light to their athletes, both having been "heartened" by reassurances over safety and improvements at the athletes' village – all of which amounted to something of a pulling back from the brink for the beleaguered Games, which are due to open in the Indian capital on Sunday week.
The England team management said in a statement: "Commonwealth Games England and its 17 member sports today unanimously agreed that they will go to the Delhi Games. CGE's chef de mission, Craig Hunter, and our team in Delhi, are now seeing the improved levels of resourcing which are required to resolve the significant operational issues, but we will continue to monitor the situation daily to ensure the village and stadia are safe and fit for purpose. The board continues to press the Organising Committee of the Commonwealth Games Federation for assurances on both the stadia and the accommodation, as well as liaising with the British Government. At all times the safety and security of our team is paramount."
The Games organisers claimed last night that the athletes' village was in "good condition" as the first 120 members of the Indian team moved in. Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the Organising Committee, said that he expected all the teams to take part.
The four British cyclists, all members of Team Sky, added their names to the growing list of individual withdrawals from the Games. Kennaugh and Thomas said their concern was catching the mosquito-borne illness Dengue fever. The extensive building work around Delhi has created ideal breeding conditions that led to an outbreak in the city. There were reports yesterday that two Indian cyclists had contracted it after training in Delhi. "Dengue has been a major concern," said Graham Seers, India's cycling coach.
The first wave of England's more than 500-strong squad departed for India last night as they had always been scheduled to. They will stay in hotel accommodation until the urgent clean-up operation in the village is completed. Hunter said in Delhi yesterday that they would remain in hotels to recover from jet lag and then move into the village when the facilities there became "habitable." Judging by photographs posted on the BBC website yesterday – which The Independent understands were taken earlier this week by Scottish officials – parts of the village have been in a desperate state, with crumbling masonry and human faeces littering some of the accommodation blocks. However, both Scotland and Wales were sufficiently assured by a pledge of "concerted action" yesterday from Sheila Dikshit, the Chief Minister of the Delhi Government, to start making preparations for the departure of their athletes.
After postponing flights for their first wave of athletes, who had been due to leave from Glasgow yesterday, Team Scotland officials said that they were now "hopeful" of the assurances they have been seeking being met. Jon Doig, Scotland's chef de mission, said: "Things are looking much better. We feel we will be in a position to confirm tomorrow that our team will travel as scheduled on Saturday." Those assurances include accommodation maintenance, plus proof that all structural safety certificates for the village and the venues are in place.
Welsh officials said that they, too, were happy about the assurances given at a meeting yesterday morning and are ready to move in. New Zealand and Canada have delayed the departure of their teams but are still expected to take a full part in the Games, while the Australians announced they were to send "experts" to assess hygiene conditions in the village before their athletes took up their quarters. Dave Currie, New Zealand's chef de mission and previously one of the more vocal critics, said: "There is some hope now. I'm more optimistic now that someone has taken ownership. But it's a bit like trying to stop the Titanic and putting it in another direction."
Athletes who have pulled out of the Games
The triple jumper announced his decision not to travel this week, citing concerns over his security. "I have children to think about," he said. "My safety is more important. People will be disappointed but I can't risk my safety."
The 400m runner opted out to protect her hamstring, after recovering from a quad injury in June. "I am disappointed to miss out after working to get fit," she said. "However, with the Olympics on the horizon, the last thing an athlete wants is to risk reinjury."
The Welsh cyclist along with English cyclists Ian Stannard, Ben Swift and Peter Kennaugh of the Isle of Man all decided yesterday not to go to Delhi. "With what's been going on, we've been made to think long and hard about going out there," Kennaugh said. "For me it's the health issues. I don't want to run the risk of possible illness at this stage in my career." Thomas echoed his comments: "I don't think anyone can perform at their best in those conditions."
Other big-name absentees
The Jamaican Usain Bolt, along with Asafa Powell and Chris Hoy are among others who pulled out earlier this year, long before the recent concerns over the Games. Many reasons were given but mainly fatigue or the preference to prepare for other events which clash with the Games or count toward Olympic qualification. Hoy is among a number of cyclists who have chosen to participate in November's European Championships instead. "It's a decision forced on me by the nature of the qualification process," he said. "The Olympics takes precedence over everything."
How the Commonwealth sees it
Last night the England team issued a statement pledging to go after getting "unanimous" agreement from its 17 member sports. It added: "CGE's chef de mission, Craig Hunter, and our team in Delhi, are now seeing the improved levels of resourcing which are required to resolve the significant operational issues, but we will continue to monitor the situation daily to ensure the village and stadia are safe and fit for purpose." The first wave of English athletes, from lawn bowls and hockey, are due to arrive today and they are likely to be housed in hotels for the time being.
Have delayed the departure of their team until Tuesday. Chef de mission David Currie met Sheila Dikshit, chief minister of the Delhi Government, yesterday. "She has brought leadership and a layer of administration to act," he said. "There is some hope now. I'm more optimistic now that someone has taken ownership. But it's a bit like trying to stop the Titanic and putting it in another direction."
Are hopeful of sending their first wave of athletes tomorrow, having delayed their departure. Team Scotland's representative Jon Doig said: "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 that our team will travel as scheduled on Saturday."
Have delayed their departure from yesterday until Sunday because of concerns about the state of the village. "The decision to delay departures is part of our contingency planning," said Scott Stevenson, Commonwealth Games Canada's director of sport. "We remain cautiously optimistic that if the pace of work in the village continues at its current rate we'll be in a position to start welcoming athletes and coaches in the next 72 hours." Archers Dietmar Trillus and Kevin Tataryn withdrew yesterday because of safety concerns. "I'll take my safety over a medal any day," Tataryn said.
Confirmed yesterday that their athletes will arrive on Monday. Perry Crosswhite, chief of the Australian Commonwealth Games Association, said that team members could expect clean, hygienic rooms in the village. "We are having all apartments professionally cleaned and we are confident that these will be in acceptable condition for the initial arrival of team athletes on 27 September," he said.
Will be travelling to Delhi on Sunday, as scheduled. Tubby Reddy, the chief executive of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, said yesterday that his organisation was happy with preparations in Delhi. "We are satisfied that every area of our concern has been covered for now," he said.Reuse content