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Commonwealth Games ready for Canadian athletes

NEW DELHI - The first wave of Canadian athletes at the troubled Commonwealth Games are arriving to "adequate" accommodations.

NEW DELHI - The first wave of Canadian athletes at the troubled Commonwealth Games are arriving to "adequate" accommodations.

First to land are the flag-bearer Ken Pereira and the men's field hockey team, the women's table tennis team, several shooters, the gymnastics team and the last of the Canadian mission staff. All are due to touch down mid-evening Delhi time.

A team spokesman says the Canadians will stay at the athletes village.

"All the rooms for these people are ready," said Canadian press attache Yan Huckendubler. "Now we are functioning day-by-day. Every day we prepare the rooms for the athletes arriving the next day. It's really touch-and-go, but they are all staying at the village."

Huckendubler said the rooms are clean and outfitted with necessities.

"It's adequate," he said. "Certainly much better than the state we found a week ago."

"It's not five-star but for athletes in competition, it is correct," he added.

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," Whittingham 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.

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.

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 village Monday.

"The facilities are fine, and right now they are enjoying their lunch," England team spokeswoman Caroline Searle said.

Like the English, the Canadian athletes have been told not to wear team uniforms while out sightseeing in the city.

The RCMP advice is: "Avoid going outside because it's a completely different environment," said Huckendubler.

If they do have to go outside, Canadian team members have been told to wear casual clothes that don't have team designation.

Inside the village, team officials and athletes said conditions 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 Tuesday, he said.

Indian workers raced to finish preparations as the athletes and officials arrived. The city's chief minister said she was confident they would complete the job ahead of the event's opening Sunday.

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 one-metre cobra, was reportedly found at the tennis stadium.

New Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who took charge of the work last week, has been seen travelling 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," Dikshit said. "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.

The multi-sport Games, held every four years, are expected to draw nearly 7,000 athletes and officials from 71 Commonwealth countries and territories .

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 said 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.

On Monday, English tennis player Richard Bloomfield pulled out after failing to recover from a back injury.

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.

Last week, Scotland was one of the most vocal critics of the athletes' village, calling it "unsafe and unfit for human habitation." But on Monday the country became the second Commonwealth team to raise its flag in a special celebration at the athletes' village, according to local news reports. Norfolk Island was the first.

"It was a brilliant ceremony and I really enjoyed it," Scottish lawn bowler Caroline Brown told PTI.

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With files from The Associated Press

 
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