Relief in Whitehall as England team agrees to travel

Nigel Morris Deputy Political Editor
Friday 24 September 2010 00:00
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The decision by the England team to go ahead with its plans to travel to India for the Commonwealth Games was greeted with immense relief last night in Whitehall.

The prospect of England boycotting the Games had provoked a frenzy of diplomatic activity between the two countries concerned and the team came under pressure to travel.

Hugh Robertson, the sports minister, had left the team management in no doubt that he wanted them to go, while civil servants feared that were the team to pull out there would be serious diplomatic ramifications.

After being told England has agreed to attend he said: "I'm absolutely delighted. Clearly there were some problems to resolve. But we were always hopeful that the Indian Government would do that in time for what I'm sure will be an unforgettable Commonwealth Games."

David Cameron is keen to forge closer ties with a growing economic power and prime target for British exports. He was accompanied by a delegation of business leaders on a successful visit to India in July, during which he held talks with the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.

Mr Cameron did not become personally involved in the emergency talks, but officials in Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the Department for Culture, Media, Sport and the Olympics all took part.

Mr Robertson spoke to team organisers every day in the run-up to the games. They said they had reservations about security.

The British High Commission in Delhi has been closely monitoring the problems surrounding the games, liaising with its organising committee and sending daily updates to London.

Hopes are growing that other problems besetting the preparations for the games can be overcome. If they are not, the future of the Commonwealth games could be jeopardised. The 2014 tournament is due to be held in Glasgow.

The Government has only been talking to English officials as sport is a devolved issue and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are represented separately at the games.

Yesterday Nick Clegg promised "every support" to the Indian government in the rush to complete preparations before the opening ceremony in nine days' time.

During a visit to Washington, the Deputy Prime Minister said: "We are not saying to people now, 'Don't go'. We are saying that this needs to be looked at carefully, that we all want the Commonwealth games to be a success.'"

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