24 Sep : Things finally began to look up for the Commonwealth Games with Australia and New Zealand confirming participation and the first batch of English athletes landing in Delhi amid an emergency inspection of the much-criticised Games Village by CGF boss Mike Fennell.
After days of indecision, Australia and New Zealand confirmed their presence in the October 3 to 14 event and also gave a thumbs up to the Athletes’ Village, which they had dubbed “filthy and uninhabitable” just a couple of days ago.
Their confirmation followed Fennell’s inspection of the Village on Friday morning during which the Commonwealth Games Federation chief took stock of the athletes’ living area accompanied by Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi and secretary general Randhir Singh among others.
But there was no stopping the individual pullouts that have dogged the Games with Welsh world and Olympic champion cyclist Geraint Thomas, Isle of Man rider Peter Kennaugh and the England pair of Ben Swift and Ian Stannard, along with Kiwi Greg rider Henderson announcing their withdrawal citing health and security fears.
Amid the pullouts, the first batch of English athletes, including their hockey and lawn bowling squad, landed in Delhi but headed to hotels instead of the Village as their living area is yet to be ready. They are expected to move into the Village by Monday.
A few Australian athletes have, however, checked into the Village despite previous concerns about hygiene.
Earlier on Friday morning, Fennell carried out bis inspection after being told by his staff that “considerable improvements” have been made at the Village even as embattled organisers continued their sprint against time to complete preparations.
“It is good to be in Delhi, and the briefing I received from my CEO, Mike Hooper, last night, was that considerable improvements have been made within the Village, with further significant resources deployed by Delhi Chief Minister, Mrs Dikshit, to make good what was a concerning situation,” Fennell said in a statement.
The CGF boss, who was unimpressed with the pace of the work and had even shot off a letter to the Cabinet Secretary a few days ago, also briefed the visiting international delegates about the work.
Even as Fennell took stock of the pending work, Australia and New Zealand Commonwealth Games bosses confirmed participation of their teams in Delhi.
This came after days of uncertainty over whether they would be in the Indian capital with the Australian Olympic Committee even questioning the wisdom behind awarding the event to Delhi.
But after visiting the Village, Australian Commonwealth Games Association chief Perry Crosswhite said his country was happy with the facilities and that their athletes are looking forward to the Games.
“We are quite happy with the Village and we are looking forward to the Games. The Australian contingent is coming,” he said.
“Absolutely, it’s thumbs up to the Games,” he said, when asked about his assessment of the Games.
Crosswhite was one of the strongest critics of the preparations of the mega event till recently.
Australia is the dominant force at the Commonwealth level winning 222 medals, including 84 gold, in the previous edition in Melbourne.
After being indecisive for quite a few days, New Zealand Olympic Committee also gave a nod of approval to their athletes’ participation in the Games after seeing positive steps being taken by the organisers to improve the situation.
New Zealand Olympic Committee board gave the go ahead for the planned departures from September 28 after being briefed by NZOC President Mike Stanley and Secretary General Barry Maister, who were in Delhi to take stock of the situation.
Stanley said the situation was grim but it has started changing following intervention by the state and the central governments.
There were some encouraging statements as well with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key saying that had he been an athlete he would have definitely gone to the Delhi Commonwealth Games despite the messy build-up to the event.
“Yeah, if I could pick my own sport, yeah I would go,” Key said.