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More athletes pull out of India’s troubled games

Ravi Nessman, The Associated Press

NEW DELHI – Workers were spraying for mosquitoes, mopping up the just-opened athletes’ village and planting flower beds as India rushed to complete long overdue work less than two weeks before the Commonwealth Games are to begin.

Several teams have delayed their arrival in New Delhi because of hygiene and security concerns, and five more athletes withdrew from the competition. The first occupants of the unfinished village – Indian athletes and Australian officials – moved in Thursday as the prime minister met with officials to discuss the troubled games.

Commonwealth Games Federation President Mike Fennell arrived late Thursday on an emergency visit and planned to tour the village Friday and meet with top Indian officials.

In a boost for India, Commonwealth Games England decided to send its more than 500 athletes to the games after members of the 17 sports represented in its delegation unanimously agreed to go. A statement said chef de mission Craig Hunter and his colleagues are seeing “improved levels of resourcing which are required to resolve the significant operational issues.” It added, however, that they will continue to monitor the situation daily to ensure the village and other venues meet their standards.

The games, which start Oct. 3 with about 7,000 athletes from 71 countries and territories, were meant to showcase India’s emergence as a regional powerhouse. But long delays in getting facilities ready and a list of scandals have turned them into an embarrassment.

Many of the venues were finished late and concerns about accommodations in the athletes’ village – including excrement in rooms and problems with plumbing, wiring and furnishings – were raised earlier this week by some of the leaders of team delegations.

Organizers also have struggled with financial scandals, an outbreak of dengue fever, the collapse of a footbridge leading to the main stadium and security fears after the Sunday shooting of two tourists outside one of New Delhi’s top attractions. A Muslim militant group took responsibility for the shooting.

A poll in the Hindustan Times newspaper Thursday showed 68 percent of New Delhi residents surveyed were ashamed of the games, which bring together athletes from across the former British empire and are held every four years. The poll of 523 people had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Thursday night with his sports minister and New Delhi officials about the games’ preparations. They did not give details on what was discussed. Delhi’s Lt. Gov. Tejinder Khanna said Singh “was informed that every effort is being made to prepare the games facilities and the village to the expected standards.” Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi, whose organizing team has been mired in graft allegations, was not asked to attend.

Four British competitors – including Geraint Thomas of Wales, who won the gold medal in team pursuit at the Beijing Olympics – said Thursday they were withdrawing. On Friday, New Zealand cyclist Greg Henderson, who has won four medals at previous games, pulled out as well. That brought to nine the number of athletes who have decided not to go to New Delhi because of concern for their health and safety.

Buckingham Palace announced in May that Prince Charles will be going to the games instead of Queen Elizabeth II. It’s believed to be the first time in 44 years that she has not attended.

With several delegations delaying their arrival because of the conditions, India has committed major resources to cleaning up the village. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was put in charge of the operation.

“There has been improvement each day,” the games’ chief executive, Mike Hooper, told The Associated Press. “There’s more to do.”

Crews with mops scrambled to clean the village, while workers tried to put the finishing touches on the venues. Hundreds of singers and dancers held a dress rehearsal for the opening ceremony in the main stadium.

“Everybody wants to make this work, and everyone is working together to make this happen,” Hooper said.

Some of the teams said they would come despite concerns about living conditions.

The Wales team said it had been assured by local organizers that the village and all venues would be ready. Scotland, which delayed its departure to India because of the problems, also said conditions have improved and expressed hopes the team would be able to travel Saturday.

The village opened its doors Thursday to the first athletes, with 138 Indian competitors and officials moving in, organizers said. Hooper said some Australian officials also had moved in.

Kalmadi said most of the problems with the village had been resolved and the games would be a success.

“We will look after everybody well, and they will have a good time,” he said.

Some national delegations remained concerned.

The New Zealand team joined Canada and Scotland in delaying its arrival.

New Zealand will decide by late Friday whether it will attend, after officials who have just returned from the games site report to the country’s Olympic committee. Team manager Dave Currie said he was “more optimistic” that the games would go ahead since senior Indian lawmakers had become involved.

Problems with plumbing, wiring, cleaning and moisture in the village need to be resolved, he said.

The Australian government said it was sending experts to assess hygiene conditions in the village and has upgraded its travel advice to alert tourists to possible construction “deficiencies” after the collapse of the footbridge and part of a drop ceiling at a games venue.

Australian media reported that Federal Police officers would travel with the team to provide extra security.

AP writers Nirmala George and Kevin Frayer in New Delhi, Steve McMorran in Wellington, New Zealand, Chris Lehourites in London and John Pye in Brisbane, Australia, contributed to this report.


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