24 Sep 2010

More countries delay departure to Delhi

5:59 am on 24 September 2010

More nations have delayed their departure for the Commonwealth Games in India as organisers race against time to address security and health concerns that have already prompted several top athletes to pull out.

New Zealand joined Canada and Scotland in delaying a decision due to poor accommodation for athletes at the New Delhi Games village, compounded by heavy monsoon rains and a dengue fever epidemic.

The Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard highlighted security fears surrounding the Games and said athletes should decide for themselves whether or not to attend.

Two foreign visitors were shot and wounded by suspected militants in the city earlier this week.

The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was meeting key ministers during the day as he reviewed preparations, in what was seen as a last-ditch effort to avoid national withdrawals.

But he was not scheduled to meet Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennell, who arrived in Delhi in the evening and had requested an emergency meeting.

The Games, held every four years for members of the organisation of mostly former British colonies, are estimated to have cost $NZ 4-8 billion.

India had hoped to use them to display its growing global economic and political clout, rivalling China.

Instead, they have snowballed into a major embarrassment for the government, having to fend off criticism of shoddy construction, inadequate security and unfit accommodation.

In a sign of desperation, the federal government ordered the organising committee to hand over management of the Games Village, which will house 6,500 athletes, to the government.