Commonwealth Games: Safety fears grow amid chaos

By David Leggat, Dylan Cleaver

Rob Nichol, Athletes' Federation boss. Photo / Getty Images
Rob Nichol, Athletes' Federation boss. Photo / Getty Images

As organisation ahead of October's Commonwealth Games lurches from shambles to shameful, the body representing New Zealand's athletes has pressed for more security personnel with the team.

And mid-September is shaping as a crunch time for the New Zealand Olympic Committee to decide on whether the country will compete in New Delhi from October 3-14.

The next major milestone in terms of security assessment is around September 12, when a large group of officials head to Delhi for an advanced look at facilities during a lockdown of the Games' venues and village. That is shaping as critical to the Games' proceeding.

An NZOC spokesperson last night confirmed that New Zealand security officials had seen "broad police security plans around the Games, and they are in accordance with best international practice.

"Now we're looking forward to September to test the systems and their operational capability".

If at that time India cannot convince security experts from a range of nations that the Games are in good hands it will significantly heighten concerns for athletes' safety.

Athletes' Federation boss Rob Nichol said that "hand on heart" he could not say whether New Zealand would send a team.

"The biggest mistake we can make right now is forcing ourselves into a position where we have to make a decision," Nichol said.

"There will come a point in the future where hard decisions will have to be made about whether it is go or no go. But at this stage it is premature to be focusing on those decisions.

"We've [NZFA] not been furnished with a copy of the Delhi police plan for the Games so I cannot put my hand on heart and say I know what's going to be completed yet.

"The best thing we can do is to plan as if they are going to go ahead."

And if a country such as Canada, Australia or the British representatives - countries with whom New Zealand is closely aligned - decided to withdraw from the Games, would the NZOC follow suit?

"It would be a significant red flag," said NZOC president Mike Stanley last night.

"We would want to talk with them very carefully as to their reasoning. We'd want to understand that and we would reflect on our position."

The Athletes' Federation - formed out of the existing players' associations of rugby, cricket, netball, hockey and soccer - met NZOC and Government officials on Thursday, where they outlined three major security concerns:

* A lack of dedicated New Zealand security personnel embedded in the team.

* Potential corruption of the accreditation process.

* The potential for attacks on athletes and officials in transit on Delhi's roads.

"The resources embedded within the team on the ground and the resources we have in terms of a presence in Delhi are two of the things we continue to ask questions about," Nichol said.

"Based on what we've seen at the moment we would like to see more [New Zealand security staff], without doubt.

"We don't want to be alarmist, but we've got to be thorough. We believe we need more people embedded with the team."

The NZOC employ Barry Taylor as their police liaison. Other police will be deployed out of the High Commission in Delhi.

Stanley said Thursday's meeting was "constructive, both in tone and content" and confirmed the suggestion of getting more security personnel engaged within the team was "helpful, and we are looking into it now".

He said the accreditation process is "consistent with what happens at other Games".

Stanley said developments were monitored on a "day-by-day" basis.

"We are looking at things very carefully, both on the risk basis and has the environment changed. We get advised on that by the Government and their security personnel.

"The other side is can Delhi meet that risk?"

The Games have been beset by corruption scandals and incompetence. Delays in the construction of venues have fallen so far behind that key security measures, like CCTV, have still to be rolled out.

"It's no secret the Games have struggled in terms of preparation around facilities," Nichol added.

"How that manifests itself around security is that everything else off the back of it ends up getting delayed."

Asked if he was confident the Games would go ahead in Delhi and New Zealand would be there, Stanley said: "I can only answer that by saying we are planning to have a team in Delhi.

"All our plans are around that. Naturally we have contingencies because that's just part of that plan. One of those contingencies could be that at any time we decide not to go because of changes we can't foresee at the moment."

Key points
* New Delhi Games start October 3.
* The lead-up has been blighted by accusations of corruption, delays in completion of venues and reports of shoddy work.
* Reports in Australia quote security experts as saying planning is deficient and behind schedule.
* Newly formed Athletes' Federation has pressed the NZOC for more of its own security people on the ground and further assurances around key security aspects like accreditation and transport.
* Security delegation to arrive in Delhi when venues go into lockdown; this looms as crucial for officials to prove they can run a "safe" Games.

- NZ Herald

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