Published November 17, 2014
NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian workers raced to finish preparations Monday for the Commonwealth Games as hundreds of athletes and team officials arrived in New Delhi. The city's chief minister said she was confident they would complete the job ahead of the event's opening Sunday.
Members of the English team, who had been forced to check themselves into a hotel because preparations were so far behind schedule, moved into the games village Monday.
"The facilities are fine, and right now they are enjoying their lunch," said Caroline Searle, spokeswoman for the England team.
India has come under harsh criticism for the state of the athletes' village — including complaints about filthy conditions — infrastructure problems and even a snake found in the room of a South African competitor over the weekend. Another snake, a 4-foot (1-meter) -long cobra, was reportedly found at the tennis stadium.
The games village was supposed to be ready last week, but many teams have delayed moving in because cleaning and repair work have not been finished.
New Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who took charge of the work last week, has been seen traveling around the village in a golf cart in recent days to personally inspect the work.
"We inherited a very difficult situation, but it's improving almost by the hour," she said Monday. "We are racing against time, no doubt about it, but we will perform."
Some of the buildings had leaks in them, there was still water in some basements and some elevators were not yet working, she said.
Team officials and athletes said conditions in the village had improved dramatically.
"A lot of work has taken place over the last few days. I am relatively satisfied," said Mike Summers, head of the Falkland Islands delegation. His 15-member team will arrive in the city and move in to the village on Tuesday, he said.
Juliet Acon, a Ugandan official, said her nation's delegation had been forced to live in hotels for a few days until their rooms were ready Saturday. "So far, so good," she said.
Kenyan shot putter Agnes Flora Oluoch said her team's rooms were in good condition, but she and her fellow athletes had yet to receive keys, forcing them to leave their doors unlocked.
Alistair Whittingham, an archer from Scotland, said conditions were better than he had expected.
"I have stayed in much, much worse accommodation during tournaments elsewhere in the world," he said.
The multi-sport games, held every four years, bring together nearly 7,000 athletes and officials from 71 countries and territories from across the former British empire. The games were meant to help cement India's reputation as a growing regional power. Instead, its image has been battered by negative publicity about its frantic last-minute efforts to get ready for an event it knew it was hosting seven years ago.
The collapse of a pedestrian bridge leading to the main stadium and the recent shooting of two tourists outside one of New Delhi's top attractions added to organizers' woes.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia, one of India's key economic policymakers, brushed off concerns that the bad publicity could scare off potential investors in India.
"If you are talking about investors, people who are planning to invest significant sums of money in India, (they will do so) based on overall assessment of the economy and the economic policy and so on," he told reporters in Malaysia. "I don't think this will become an opportunity for people ... to reverse their opinion of how the Indian economy is performing."
Nevertheless, the bad publicity has continued, with Australian cyclist Travis Meyer and table tennis player Stephanie Sang announcing Sunday they would pull out of the competition — following a string of other athletes who have decided to stay away, either because of health and security concerns or injuries.
Tuelo Serufho, head of the Botswana contingent, was quoted by Press Trust of India as saying that his team's rooms in the village were "unlivable for our athletes," with filthy bedsheets, bathroom fixtures that did not work and construction debris yet to be cleared away.
Complaints have also came from Indian competitors.
Boxer Akhil Kumar, who won gold for India in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, said he was disappointed with his accommodation. "When I sat down on my bed to take a rest, it collapsed," Kumar was quoted as saying by the Times of India newspaper.
Associated Press writer Vijay Joshi contributed to this story from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.