Team managers from the 17 sports that will make up England's 371-strong Commonwealth Games team were called to a pre-Games briefing in central London yesterday, just around the corner from Trafalgar Square. They were advised on measures to take to reduce the risk of their athletes falling victim to the life-threatening mosquito-born dengue fever that has hit Delhi, where the Games open on 3 October.
They were also told their athletes should take their own "small medical kits" with them to the Indian capital.
What with the monsoon season in belated full flow, and the lingering threat of terrorism, not to mention all of the doubts about the preparedness of facilities, Craig Hunter, England's chef de mission, could have been excused for feeling just a tad like Nelson addressing his fellow admirals before the fun and games began off the south-west coast of Spain back in 1805.
"Yes, Delhi is full of challenges," the former Olympic and Commonwealth Games swimming team manager said. "The culture there is, 'Everything should only be ready when the bride arrives,' because they run everything like a wedding. But I think you will see that it will be an absolutely spectacular Games."
The England squad has already been shorn of several high-profile names – Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah among them – and Hunter said any athletes concerned about security "would be free to withdraw from the team at any point".
"If those athletes have any concerns, we would talk to them," Hunter added. "We're dealing with professional athletes and to compete at the very top level they need to be physically fit and mentally fit. And if there are challenges around some of their mental preparation, and they don't have the reassurance that they need, they may well not be able to compete to their optimum. So if they felt that [withdrawal from the team] was appropriate, then that would have to be their choice."
Those who have chosen to go to Delhi with what will be the biggest ever England team at an overseas Commonwealth Games will be advised to take precautions against the threat of dengue fever. The number of cases in Delhi has already exceeded last year's tally of 1,153 and there have been at least three deaths from the illness, which can trigger fatal internal bleeding.
Hunter said: "As an illness, there's very little you can do other than to take precautions, such as wearing long sleeves and long trousers and use deep spray. We've given the team managers appropriate advice about the products they should be taking – plug-ins for bedrooms, which will kill mosquitoes in their apartments, which are all air-conditioned, so it's unlikely that within the accommodation there would be a risk issue.
"We will also be suggesting that all our team members take their own small medical kit, with some basics in. It would just make it easier for them to administer on a daily basis."
Asked whether any additional security measures had been taken by the English team, Hunter said: "We're using protocols that have been adopted with a number of international teams going to major games and world championships over the recent past. We're working very closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Metropolitan Police and the British Commission in Delhi to ensure that the security arrangements across the Games are appropriate for our team.
"The travel advice for India is just about to be changed, I think. There has been some advice that tourists are not advised to visit markets and that's going to be removed, we have been told."
Are the Commonwealth Games on track?
Q. How close to completion are the stadiums?
A. The Commonwealth Games chief executive Michael Hooper has confirmed that all venues have been completed and the organisation received the required safety certificates this week.
Q. The Games start on 3 October, how are the ticket sales going?
A. It has been reported in India that ticket sales are massively behind schedule – with 50,000 sold so far out of a total of 2.3 million available. The cheapest tickets are 5,000 rupees (£70) – which is 2,000 rupees more than the minimum monthly income in the country. "The tendency in India is to buy tickets closer to the event," Sanjeev Mittal, head of the ticketing division, said. "There have been a lot of enquiries from abroad as well as from corporate sponsors. We are aiming to sell a total of 1.7 million tickets."
Q. Is there sufficient security in place in Delhi?
A. The Indian government has declared that the Games will take place in a secure environment, and the security plan has been revised after the bombings in Bangalore in April. Around 80,000 police officers, over 17,500 paramilitary personnel, 3,000 commandos and 100 anti-sabotage check teams will be deployed across the city. The Commonwealth Games Committee has given assurances to each country that it will be safe. D R Kaarthikeyen, security adviser to the organising committee, has said there will be a very large and visible security presence around the stadiums and press arenas."They will feel more assured when they see a lot of policemen around," he said.
Q. And what is being done about dengue fever?
A. "The reality is Delhi has 17 million inhabitants and 1,400 are infected," Hooper said. "Precautions are being taken – stagnant water is being removed twice daily from venues. Prevention is the best cure."
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