India fear Commonwealth Games venues will not be ready

New Delhi: Construction delays have raised fears that Commonwealth Games venues may not be fully ready in time providing a potential embarrassment for India which hopes the Games will showcase its rising economic power.

The country is expecting two million tourists in New Delhi, as well as athletes from 71 teams from the 54 Commonwealth member states for the Oct. 3-14 Games. About 10,000 athletes and officials are due to take part.

However, with 132 days to go, the main stadium is months overdue and completion of the swimming pool and other venues has been delayed, highlighting the slow pace of India`s infrastructure development.

"I am not wanting to sound alarmist, but the reality is there is a lot more to be done, a lot of finishing work to be done," Mike Hooper, chief executive officer of the Commonwealth Games Federation, told Reuters in an interview.

Other officials from the Commonwealth Games Federation and the Indian Olympic Association voiced similar concerns.

India had initially promised to hand over the venues to Games organisers by Dec. 31, 2009.

Targets have been consistently missed for building roads, ports and power plants. Bureaucracy and red tape and difficulties in acquiring land have delayed plans to overhaul infrastructure to sustain 8-9 percent economic growth by 2012.

Experts say poor infrastructure shaves an estimated 1 or 2 percentage points off India`s annual economic growth.

The capital is also repairing old colonial buildings and completing new roads and rail links to give the city a makeover to try to ensure a successful event.

But the signs have not been encouraging.

"The construction agencies have promised that they will meet deadlines but, unfortunately, we have had times when many promises were made and then we find one reason or another that delivery hasn`t been there," Hooper said.

Authorities now fear the schedule will become so tight they will have insufficient time to check venues for glitches before the Games open.

Heightening those fears, the lights went out at a stadium on the first day of an Asian junior tennis tournament on Monday, forcing officials to abandon eight matches.

"The Games will happen, swimming will happen, athletics will happen," Hooper said. "But it comes down to the level and standards of completion, I suppose."

India is also endeavouring to reassure foreign participants that it will provide foolproof security for the Commonwealth Games.

Threats to sporting events were underscored in April when bombs went off outside a packed cricket stadium in south India. That stirred concerns India might not be able to secure events involving large numbers of athletes and spectators at a variety of venues.

A comprehensive setup to provide security, including high-tech scanners and X-ray equipment, has yet to be purchased by authorities, let alone installed at venues, officials say. Thousands of security staff will oversee the venues.

Hooper said he was wary of threats by mostly Pakistan-based militant groups but said security drills had been satisfactory so far.

"Everybody is concerned about the security environment... but no team has said we are not coming to the Games," Hooper said.

Bureau Report