The Delhi Commonwealth Games were plunged into crisis Tuesday 12 days from the start after the athletes’ village was described as ‘uninhabitable’ and a footbridge collapsed at the main stadium.
Adding to the sense of chaos that has enveloped an event India hoped would project its new economic power on the international stage, a leading Australian athlete pulled out of the competition because of security fears.
Organisers scrambled to contain the damage, fearful that a pullout by a major team could wreck the October 3-14 multisport showcase that has long been dogged by delays, corruption allegations and anxiety about safety.
Mike Hooper, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, led stinging criticism about the athletes’ residential towers, which will embarrass the government that has admitted that the country’s prestige is on the line.
“They’re filthy. You can’t occupy them. They need a deep clean. There’s builders’ dust and rubble in doorways, shower doors the wrong way round, toilets that don’t work,” he said just two days before athletes begin arriving.
There was also “excrement in places it shouldn’t be”, referring to problems thought to be the result of thousands of labourers using the toilets in the “certainly uninhabitable” residential complex.
Complaints about cleanliness, plumbing and electrics were also made by other countries that have arrived early in the Indian capital, including Scotland which described the village as “unsafe and unfit for human habitation”.
“The reality is that if the village is not ready and athletes can’t come, the implications are that it’s not going to happen,” New Zealand chef de mission Dave Currie told New Zealand commercial radio.
“It’s pretty grim really and certainly disappointing when you consider the amount of time they had to prepare.”
Thousands of workers have been labouring around the clock to finish sports facilities and the athletes’ village, as well as to clear up piles of building rubble that still litter large parts of the capital.
At the main Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, which will host the opening ceremony and athletics, an under-construction footbridge collapsed on Tuesday, injuring 23 labourers, five seriously, police said.
The approximately 100-metre (328-foot) bridge, built to link the car park to the stadium, fell down as workers were paving it, a labourer at the scene told AFP.