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Canadian athletes get green light for Games

A massive effort to improve living conditions at the athletes' village in New Delhi has convinced officials that Canadian athletes should get the green light to participate in the problem-plagued Commonwealth Games.

A massive effort to improve living conditions at the athletes' village in New Delhi has convinced officials that Canadian athletes should get the green light to participate in the problem-plagued Commonwealth Games.

"It was a good day indeed," Scott Stevenson, director of sport for Commonwealth Games Canada, said Thursday during a telephone conference call from the Indian capital.

"We really felt we turned a corner today. We are starting to feel this is going to happen and it's going to be a good Games. We do feel much better today."

The first Canadian athletes are expected to arrive in the village Sunday.

Several teams, including Canada, delayed their arrival in New Delhi because of hygiene and security concerns at the athletes village. Earlier this week Canadian officials called the athletes' quarters unlivable due to excrement in rooms and problems with plumbing, wiring and furnishings.

If conditions did not improve, there was a possibility Canada and some other countries could keep their athletes home.

Swimmer Brent Hayden found the uncertainty frustrating.

"I just want to race," said Hayden, who was scheduled to fly to Singapore with the rest of the Canadian swim team. "I'm still eager to put on the best show that I can.

"I'll sleep at the pool if I have to."

Stevenson was encouraged by a meeting with Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who has taken charge of ridding the squalor from the athletes village.

Soon after the meeting, over 800 labourers began a cleanup and repair operation.

"I have to say it was great to have some guarantees made at a meeting and to really see some of the fruits of the labour attached to that," said Stevenson.

"What was most significant, besides the quality of the workmanship and the numbers, was there was direct supervision and it seemed very co-ordinated. That was positive for us."

Andrew Pipe, president of Commonwealth Games Canada, applauded the effort. He warned Canadian officials will remain vigilant of how Games organizers deal with issues like security, transportation and maintenance.

"We will continue to maintain a very robust and very rigorous scrutiny of other areas of Games activity (so) we can constantly ensure the safety and security of our team members," Pipe said.

The possibility of the world's third largest city being embarrassed on the international stage seems to have sent a jolt of urgency through organizers. Less than two weeks remain before the opening ceremony.

Workers sprayed for mosquitoes while crews with mops scrambled to clean the village and plant flower beds. Finishing touches were also being made to competition venues.

Meanwhile, hundreds of singers and dancers held a dress rehearsal for the opening ceremony in the main stadium.

Canada is sending a team of 400 athletes, coaches and support staff to the Games. The 12-day competition, which opens Oct. 3, will attract 7,000 athletes from 71 countries and territories.

India hoped the event would showcase the country's emergence as a regional powerhouse. But long delays in getting facilities ready and a list of scandals have turned pride into embarrassment.

Many of the venues were finished late.

Organizers also have struggled with financial scandals, an outbreak of dengue fever, the collapse of a footbridge leading to the main stadium and security fears after the Sunday shooting of two tourists outside one of New Delhi's top attractions. A Muslim militant group took responsibility for the shooting.

English sports officials said Thursday they have "unanimously" agreed to send the country's 500-member team to the Games. But New Zealand will decide within 24 hours if its athletes will attend.

Dave Currie, New Zealand's team manager, said he's lost faith in the Indian organizing committee's ability to solve problems. He called the last-minute attempt to bring facilities up to scratch "like trying to stop the Titanic."

Four British cyclists — including Olympic gold medallist Geraint Thomas — said Thursday they were withdrawing from the Games.

On Friday, New Zealand cyclist Greg Henderson, who has won four medals at previous games, pulled out as well.

Among the nine athletes who have pulled out over concerns for their health and safety are Canadian archers Dietmar Trillus, a former world champion, and Kevin Tataryn.

Pipe said no pressure will be placed on the athletes to reconsider their decision.

"I think we have to respect the decision those individuals made," he said.

Canadian athletes travelling to New Delhi are being advised not to leave the protection of the village or Games venues and training facilities.

Pipe was frustrated that some technical officials and judges working at the Games have not received their accreditation.

"As late as today we are learning some of the log jams appear to have been broken and some of this information is flowing," he said.

"This is just another reflection of the degree to which the organization of the Games in a number of areas has been lax."

The swim team plans to train in Singapore before arriving in New Delhi next Thursday.

Pierre Lafontaine, Swimming Canada's chief executive officer, said there has been talk among countries like Australia, New Zealand and Britain about holding an alternative swim meet in Singapore if the Games are cancelled.

Canadian officials have tried to shield athletes from the problems facing the Games. But former swimmer Elaine Tanner said worries about health and safety could impact performances.

"Some athletes can compartmentalize their athletic performances and they won't allow it to affect them," said Tanner, who won four gold and three silver medals at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica.

"Other people, they may be over come by it and lose their focus."

The bad press over the Games resulted in a poll in the Hindustan Times newspaper showing 68 per cent of New Delhi residents surveyed were ashamed of the event.

Commonwealth Games Federation President Mike Fennel has arrived on an emergency visit. He plans to tour the village Friday and meet with top Indian officials.

Prime Minister Mammoth Singh met Thursday night with his sports minister and New Delhi officials about the Games' preparations. They did not give details on what was discussed.

Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee chairman Surges Aladdin, whose organizing team has been mired in graft allegations, was not asked to attend the meeting.

New Delhi beat Hamilton for the right to host the Games in 2003.

Pipe said for the last two years Indian organizers have been warned their preparations were behind schedule but "these pleas fell on deaf ears."

What's happened in India may affect future votes in awarding Games, he said.

"Sports federations . . . having seen this experience will be even more vigilant and rigorous in applying criteria to identify communities which are capable of organizing and delivering a Games on schedule," Pipe said.

The Indian government initially pegged the cost of the Games at less than US$100 million in 2003. Estimates now are between $3 billion and more than $10 billion.

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With files from The Associated Press.

 
 
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