NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A footbridge being built for the Commonwealth Games in India collapsed on Tuesday, injuring 27 people and highlighting the raft of problems that have so far blighted the event, meant to showcase the emerging global power.
Preparations for October’s Commonwealth Games, intended to be the coming out party for India the Olympics were for China, are down to the wire and the event risks descending into farce.
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The shooting of two foreign visitors by suspected militants in Delhi on Sunday has combined with a dengue fever epidemic, heavy monsoon rains, delayed construction, graft scandals and traffic chaos to give the Games that sinking feeling.
Police said the collapsed bridge was just outside the main stadium, putting India’s sometimes lax construction standards again in the spotlight.
Concerns over security and health forced discus world champion Dani Samuels of Australia to pull out of the Games, another blow to organisers at pains to assure participants of complete safety.
Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennell said on Tuesday the two-week event, starting Oct. 3, was seriously compromised by conditions at the Games village that have “shocked the majority.”
However Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Jamaica said they had no plans to pull out.
“We have gone to Games before, not only in Third World countries, where weeks before the event people were concerned about the state of readiness and when the Games began everything was in place,” Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association vice president Warren Blake said.
Officials also remained upbeat. “I am as confident and as cool as ever about our organizing. These are all minor hiccups,” Urban Development Minister S. Jaipal Reddy told reporters.
Dismal preparations have, for many, underscored the out-of-touch, slow-paced leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Congress government, raising questions how a graft-ridden, inefficient state can hope to compete with China.
The government’s pro-poor voter image may suffer from tales of billions of wasted dollars. A perception of India’s entrepreneurial prowess threatening Western jobs may slip if roofs leak and journalists wonder where the Wi-Fi is.
“Fingers crossed, India may pull off a miracle,” said Boria Majumdar, a sports historian who has written the book ‘Sellotape Legacy: Delhi and the Commonwealth Games’.
“But it will have to be a miracle. No doubt about that”.
The Games village and security — construction delays mean venues have been locked down by police only two weeks before the Games — are the two major weakness of the Games, Majumdar said.
Some four or five accommodation towers at the Games village are still unfinished, lacking facilities such as wireless Internet, fitted toilets and plumbing. Rubble, unused masonry and discarded bricks litter the unfinished gardens.
A crude cement slope appeared to be an unplanned fix for disabled athletes requiring access to one apartment block.
The athletes’ training centre was still to be fitted out. The water in the training and recreational swimming pools was dirty, with insect larvae breeding on the surface.
“There have had some delegations staying there and they have been reporting constantly about the filth in the village,” Fennell told CNN-IBN TV.
Organisers say there is no question the Games will be put off, but the nightmare is that one delegation exits and that leads to an avalanche. And the problems are not receding.
With the $6 billion Games way behind schedule, there have been worries stagnant puddles in construction sites have proved breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Hundreds of Delhi residents are hospitalised in one of the worst dengue epidemics in years.
With costs running 17 times more than original estimates, the government’s anti-corruption watchdog identified 16 projects with suspect financing.
The insistence to hold the Games in October has led to some athletes pulling out due to conflicts with Olympic qualifiers. October also means the opening ceremony may be ruined by rains.
Triple Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt of Jamaica is the most high profile top athlete to decided to skip the event.
But many venues, including the main Jawaharlal Nehru stadium have been praised as world class.
Other events such as the 2004 Athens Olympics were dogged by problems but turned out fine. Beijing was hit by worries over the torch relay and Tibet protests but ended in media glory.
Some officials say foreigners do not understand how India works. Sport Minister Manohar Singh Gill said it is like an Indian wedding where chaos ends in a well-planned ceremony.
But scandals have sent shivers down the government that since the summer has effectively replaced many organisers with top civil servants, giving the Games access to more funds.
However, the Congress government was late getting involved, highlighting its slow pace in dealing with issues ranging from economic reforms to separatist violence in Kashmir.
“It’s just one of so many goof-ups,” said Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a political economist. “This will not do the government any good. When you have a big bash and benefits are minimal it sharpens and widens the inequalities in India. People notice.”
(Additional reporting by Amlan Chakraborty and Henry Foy)
(Editing by Paul de Bendern and Miral Fahmy. To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)
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