Commonwealth Games: Desperate measures as teams take their chances

New Delhi is welcoming the first athletes to its crisis-hit Commonwealth Games as organisers race against time to rescue the event amid claims the city should never have been chosen.

The Commonwealth Games Federation signalled that conditions were finally improving, but that there was still work to do after the athletes' village was described as "uninhabitable" earlier in the week.

The CGF didn't include dog-catching in that signal but the Times of India reported that dog catchers were out in force in the village yesterday, cornering the curs whose deposits in a basin and footprints on the white beds marred India's image around the world.

Meanwhile as Scotland gave the green light for their athletes to travel to the Games, English officials in Delhi warned that "more and swift action" was required to make the athletes' village fit for habitation.

Having delayed the departure of their first wave of competitors, scheduled to fly from Glasgow on Thursday, Team Scotland announced that they would start sending athletes today.

"There will undoubtedly be challenges ahead in Delhi," Michael Cavendish, the chairman of Commonwealth Games Scotland, said. "But we are confident these can be effectively dealt with by our management, who have done a fantastic job over the last week."

The showpiece multisport event, set to begin in nine days, teetered on the brink of collapse when some nations threatened to pull out amid worries about security, a collapsed bridge and the state of the facilities. Reports from India suggest the bridge will be rebuilt within five days.

"It is vital that all remedial work that has already started continues with the greatest urgency," Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell said.

The Games also won a much-needed green light from England, who earlier warned the event was on a "knife-edge".

Northern Ireland confirmed they would send their team and the Indian athletes moved into the village yesterday, perhaps predictably hailing the facilities as satisfactory.

However, high-profile athletes continued to pull out, including Welsh cyclist Geraint Thomas, an Olympic gold medallist.

The first contingent of English athletes arrived at the airport in red and white tracksuits, but they moved into a hotel rather than the village, where thousands of cleaners have been pressed into urgent action.

"There are still issues with the residences, electrical issues, plumbing issues ..." said Team England spokeswoman Caroline Searle after a tour of the rooms allocated to the 560 English athletes and support staff. "I can't say when it might be ready for us to move in. We're taking it day by day, hour by hour."

Australia's Olympic chief John Coates said the Indian capital should never have got the Games in the first place, adding that the Commonwealth Games Federation was also to blame for the shambolic organisation.

"The Games shouldn't have been awarded to New Delhi, in hindsight," Coates said. "I think the problem is the Commonwealth Games Federation is under-resourced. It doesn't have the ability ... to monitor the progress of cities in the way the Olympic committee does."

Hundreds of staff were deployed from late Thursday, overseen by Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

"We are working on a war footing," said Ashok Kapoor, chief administrator in the village which comprises 34 six-storey towers. "More than 2000 are on the job everywhere, round the clock."

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