CWG on Track - Amid Criticism and Cyclists Pulling Out

New Delhi, Sep 24 (IANS) Five cyclists pulled out citing health and safety issues and Australia questioned why the event was being held in India, but the 19th Commonwealth Games seemed set to roll Friday with the first of the foreign contingents landing in the Indian capital for the Oct 3-14 event.

After days of questioning of whether the Games would be held at all, England's first batch of 22 athletes, comprising hockey and lawn bowls teams, arrived in New Delhi Friday. The full contingent of 551 athletes will arrive in the next few days, officials said.

However, the team was put up in a hotel and not in the Commonwealth Games Village, which had earlier been described as "filthy and unlivable". As frenetic efforts were on to clean up the village, England chef de mission Craig Hunter said they would wait until it was ready.

"We will set up our athletes in local hotels," Hunter was quoted as saying by The Daily Telegraph.

"We do not want to move them in one day and then have to move them out again. We want them to get over their jet lag and then move in when it (the village) is ready."

The hockey players and lawn bowl team landed on a day when four world class British cyclists and one from New Zealand pulled out of the Games -- the largest sporting event India is hosting since 1982 Asian Games.

Englishmen Ben Swift and Ian Stannard and Pete Kennaugh of Isle of Man said they would give the Games a miss.

"It is a massive disappointment first and foremost but with the hygiene and the risk of getting ill, it was a massive risk," Thomas was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

Greg Henderson from New Zealand also decided not to attend citing issues like the conditions at the village and dengue, reports said.

Earlier, world champion discus thrower Dani Samuels and two Canadaian archers withdrew from the Games after severely criticising the athletes accommodation.

To add to the many voices speaking against India's preparations for the global event, Australian Olympic Committee John Coates said India "shouldn't have been awarded the (Commonwealth) Games".

"In hindsight, no, they shouldn't have been awarded the Games," AAP quoted Coates as saying.

"The problem is the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) is under-resourced. It doesn't have the ability to monitor the progress of cities in the way the Olympic Committee does."

But there were words of praise too.

Canadian officials, who Wednesday delayed the departure of their athletes for New Delhi, expressed satisfaction with progress being made at the athletes' village and expected the event to take place as scheduled.

Canadian athletes are now scheduled to begin arriving in Delhi Sunday, reports from Toronto said.

If the progress is sustained, the Commonwealth Games will be held without any further setbacks, a TV channel quoted Scott Stevenson, director of Sport for Commonwealth Games Canada, as saying.

Stevenson, who is here, said Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has brought "a change in the culture of preparations" by bringing in her own staff, including engineers, to manage the project.

Andrew Pipe, president of Commonwealth Games Canada, also welcomed the intervention of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who held an emergency meeting with Sports Minister M.S. Gill, Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy and seniors officials Thursday to fix the problems.

New Zealand, which has been scathing in its criticism, also decided to attend the Games, ending days of speculation following concerns of hygiene and security, announced New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) president Mike Stanley and secretary-general Barry Maister.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key added in Wellington that he would go to New Delhi based on the information he has received so far from Delhi.

"Yeah, if I could pick my own sport, yeah I would go," Key was quoted as saying by the New Zealand Herald.

"It's very unlikely that New Zealand would pull out on its own. If we are likely to not send our team, then it will be because a large number of like-minded countries form the same view."

Some 7,000 participants and officials from 71 teams are expected to attend the Games.



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