New Dehli - The Commonwealth Games plunged deeper into crisis Wednesday with England warning the event was on a “knife edge” over complaints of filthy housing and worsening structural and security concerns.
Officials said Commonwealth Games Federation chief Mike Fennell was flying in for a meeting Thursday with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss the problems overwhelming the October 3-14 event.
The latest high-profile withdrawals include the English Olympic 400m gold medallist Christine Ohuruogu and world triple jump champion Phillips Idowu, with Australia warning more of its competitors might follow.
Their decisions come after complaints by some teams about the state of the athletes' village, safety fears due to the collapse of a footbridge near one of the venues and question marks over security after a gun attack on tourists.
“I think we're at an absolutely vital time (regarding) whether the major teams go,” warned Commonwealth Games England chairman Andrew Foster, who said the next 24-48 hours would be critical.
“It's a situation that hangs on a knife-edge,” Foster said, with athletes due to begin arriving this week for an event that was meant to showcase the modern India.
Adding to the organisers' woes, a section of false ceiling fell down on Wednesday at the weightlifting venue, although there were no injuries, the government said.
Scotland Ä the next hosts of the games in 2014 announced it was delaying the departure of its athletes by a few days, while Channel Island teams Jersey and Guernsey made direct threats to pull out if conditions did not improve.
England's Idowu wrote on the micro-blogging site Twitter Tuesday: “Sorry people, but I have children to think about. My safety is more important to them than a medal.”
Indian media on Wednesday described the complaints about “filthy” and “uninhabitable” conditions at the showpiece athlete's village as a national embarrassment, calling for those responsible to be held accountable.
“India has been shamed globally,” the Times of India said in a front-page editorial. “The guilty must be identified and brought to book.
“It may not restore our reputation, but at least it will show that we, as a nation, value our honour.”
Games organisers have downplayed the mounting concerns at home and abroad about the event and said they still expected a “very good” field of athletes.
New Delhi is expecting to host some 7 000 athletes and officials from countries and territories mostly from the former British empire for the multi-sport event.
“I can reassure everyone that the athletes will enjoy their stay in New Delhi,” organising committee secretary-general Lalit Bhanot told AFP.
“The stadiums are world class and so is the games village. We will be ready by the time they start arriving this week.”
But Australia warned that more competitors could withdraw, after world discus champion Dani Samuels made a tearful withdrawal over health and security worries on Tuesday.
Minister for Sport Mark Arbib said Australia's Commonwealth Games chief Perry Crosswhite was expecting “a number more” to follow and that he would be imposing tough rules restricting athletes' travel in New Delhi.
A home-grown Islamist group on Sunday claimed responsibility for a shooting on a tourist bus outside New Delhi's Jama Masjid that injured two Taiwanese nationals, prompting a number of Western countries to issue travel warnings.
The Indian capital has also been in the grip of an outbreak of dengue fever, caused by mosquitoes breeding in stagnant pools of water that have accumulated on games construction sites.
The Commonwealth Games Federation on Tuesday blasted the official accommodation as “uninhabitable” with rubble in doorways and malfunctioning toilets, along with electrical and other problems.
Officials from some teams have even taken to cleaning the facilities themselves to bring them up to scratch.
The revelations come after a series of delays and missed deadlines for venues, plus a catalogue of claims about corruption, dubious contracts and the use of poor-quality materials, seven years after India was awarded the games. - Sapa-AFP