Race to finish C.Games facilities as athletes move in

Hundreds of athletes moved into the Commonwealth Games village in New Delhi on Monday, as it was confirmed Prince Charles will preside at the opening ceremony just six days away.

Despite warnings that work would not be finished at the much-criticised village until Wednesday, athletes and support staff from nations including England, South Africa, Australia and Canada arrived during the day.

Problems plaguing the crisis-hit Games range from shabby accommodation to security fears, an outbreak of dengue fever, and doubts about public safety after the collapse of a new footbridge next to the main stadium.

In a desperate bid to finish work on time, an army of manual workers was drafted in to tackle uncompleted apartments, dirty toilets and heaps of builders' rubbish at the village.

Indian mounted police patrol outside the Commonwealth Games Village in New Delhi, ahead of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games

Prince Charles will open the Games on Sunday evening, his office confirmed, playing down reports of a row over who would preside.

Queen Elizabeth, 84, who would normally open the Games as head of the Commonwealth, in May said she would not travel to India due to her hectic schedule and instead sent Prince Charles, her son and heir.

The move, which drew criticism in India, had led organisers to discuss whether Indian President Pratibha Patil should instead open the Games.

"Both the Prince of Wales and the President of India will have a prominent role in the opening ceremony in Delhi," a spokeswoman at Clarence House, the prince's official London residence, said.

"The Queen has asked the Prince of Wales to represent her at the opening of the Commonwealth Games."

The Games have been hit by complaints about the athletes' accommodation, and Pakistan Monday was the latest to air grievances.

"Our delegation ... found the residential facilities in the village as unsatisfactory so we have given 24 hours to the organisers to bring an improvement or give us a hotel to put up our athletes," Arif Hasan, president of the Pakistan Olympic Association, told AFP.

Hasan however ruled out any boycott of the event.

The head of the organising committee said most of the apartments at the athletes' village were finally ready and that the rest would be finished in the next few days.

"The work is going on. Eighty percent of the flats are OK. All the water has disappeared. To finish it, we need two to three more days," Suresh Kalmadi told reporters. "People who have come today are saying the village is great."

The shambolic state of the village brought the multisport event to the brink of disaster last week after leading countries hinted that they might pull out.

Several athletes have withdrawn due to health and safety concerns, but the threat of boycotts from entire teams has receded.

Nearly 50 British athletes moved into the village on Monday.

"We have sufficient bedrooms for this first group of athletes, and activity at the village has picked up a lot," England team spokeswoman Caroline Searle told AFP on Monday. "But there is still a lot of work to be done."

Kenyan chef de mission Jonathan Koskei said he was satisfied.

"We have participated in such Games in other countries also. The facilities are poorer (than here) in many other countries. We are happy with the facilities," Koskei said. "They are improving hour by hour."

South African high commissioner Harris Mbulelo Majeke complained a snake was found in one room at the village, while Indian boxer Akhil Kumar said his bed collapsed as soon as he sat on it.

Elsewhere, a blame game has erupted between local organisers and the event's federation.

Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell was forced to defend the organisation's chief executive Mike Hooper, who said the Games' chaotic run-up was due to Indian officials.

"We're at the hands and the mercy of, effectively, the government of India, the Delhi government, the agencies responsible for delivery of the venues," Hooper told Television New Zealand on Sunday.

"Renewed deadlines came and went. New reasons for delays kept coming up. Absolutely exasperation from our perspective," he said.

Fennell said Hooper had "merely stated the fact that the responsibility for delivering and operating the Games lies with authorities in India" and that Hooper was a victim of "vicious and totally unwarranted" attacks in the media.

source AFP

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