NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India promised to have the athletes’ housing for the Commonwealth Games cleaned up by Wednesday, and said workers were labouring at double time to have all facilities ready for the opening ceremony on Oct. 3.
The Games aimed to improve India’s image as a rising power, but criticism of shoddy construction and dirty housing and security fears have instead raised questions about Asia’s third largest economy.
Nearly all of the 1,500 athletes who had arrived in New Delhi by Monday were staying at the Games Village, the last big unfinished venue.
Many members of the more than 20 teams in Delhi have praised their facilities as roomy and clean, but other delegations have encountered problems, including Scotland’s team, whose chief said “standards were just not good enough”.
A snake was found in the room of a South African athlete and about 150 flats are still considered to be unhygienic, despite a weekend drive by workers to overcome the problems.
The opening ceremony for the two-week sporting event, held every four years for former British colonies, is on Oct. 3 and the Games Federation said all 71 nations will participate.
Some media said there had been a row between India and Britain over whether India’s president or Prince Charles, the heir to the throne who is standing in for Queen Elizabeth at the ceremony, would open the Games.
A spokesman for the British embassy, however, said Prince Charles would open the Games and denied there was any controversy. Indian NDTV television said a compromise was reached between the Indian president and Prince Charles.
(For a slideshow: Countdown to Commonwealth, click here)
Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said the Village, where 8,000 athletes will stay, would be ready on Wednesday.
“We inherited a very difficult situation but it’s improving almost by the hour,” she told reporters. “Everybody has been told to work double time and we will do it.”
About 20 athletes, including world champion sprinter Usain Bolt, have pulled out of the Games.
The lack of participation from some of the world’s top sports stars has taken some of the shine from an event India had hoped to use to display its growing global influence, rivalling China which put on a spectacular 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
In a boost for the Games, Isle of Man cyclist Mark Cavendish, a Tour de France stage winner and one of the world’s best sprinters, said he would compete in the road race.
The chaos surrounding the Games has been a big embarrassment for the government.
Poor infrastructure was ranked by the World Economic Forum as the most problematic factor for doing business in a nation plagued by power cuts and choked, potholed roads.
A bridge collapse in the runup to the Games, a suspected militant attack on two foreign visitors and an outbreak of dengue fever has brought international and domestic criticism of the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Commonwealth Games Chief Executive Mike Hooper attacked the preparations, while Australia’s Olympic chief said Delhi should never have been awarded the event.
The government had seven years to prepare for the Games, but only started work in earnest two years ago, a move the official in charge of the 2004 Athens Olympics said showed they had underestimated the size of the task.
Like Delhi, Athens rushed to complete venues which drew censure and there were doubts the Olympics would take place. The event, however, went ahead without any major glitches.
The Games were supposed to highlight the modern face of India: new highways, a metro extension, sports venues and a $2 billion international airport.
The government is also trying to paper over problems that have plagued the country for decades, ranging from child labour to the millions who live in abject poverty.
The Commonwealth Games, first held in Hamilton, Canada in 1930, are the most well known activity of the Commonwealth, said a survey in March by the Royal Commonwealth Society.
Analysts say if the Delhi Games turn out to be a fiasco, it may be hard to persuade sponsors, television companies, media and athletes that the Games deserve attention in the future.
(Writing by Miral Fahmy, editing by Sugita Katyal)
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