It was a strange Friday morning. Delhi’s roads, which were expected to go into a worse than normal jam mode between 11 am and noon because of the official start of the specially designated Common-wealth Games lanes, wore a rather deserted look. Many Delhiites probably decided to save on the blood pressure medication and stayed home.
The foreign delegations to these Games though, ventured out, beginning with a batch of English athletes, who became the first foreign sportspersons to brave Delhi.
As first reported by the Hindustan Times on Friday, the Indian government’s contacting the governments of other Commonwealth countries to assure them that all would be well on the security, safety and health fronts, seems, for now, to have persuaded them to jump off the fence and fly to India.
The government, according to sports ministry sources, spent Thursday and Friday detailing measures taken to make the Games Village habitable and hygienic.
The only hurdle now is whether the Village, where delegates attended a two-hour assessment meeting in the morning, comes up to scratch.
Though most Indian athletes felt the accommodation they were given was adequate, despite morning power cuts, the gymnastics team, which arrived late on Thursday, had a harrowing time dealing with dirty rooms and malfunctioning loos.
In addition, lifts in two of the three towers allocated to India (Tower 30-31) were out of order because of water-logging in the basement.
Sources said New Zealand, Canada, Scotland and England vociferously voiced concerns about hygiene and safety issues. Sources said that the chefs de mission of these four nations complained about structural problems and health problems in and around the Village and were angry that promises made to them by the Organising Committee had not been kept.
“Sports minister M.S. Gill spoke to his counterparts in countries like New Zealand, Australia, England, Canada and Scotland,” said a Ministry source.
“England sports minister Hugh Robertson, with whom he spoke on Friday, assured us that England would participate and, in fact, said he was looking forward to visiting India.”
Meanwhile, the Cabinet Secretary has apparently reassured Commonwealth Games Federation chief Mike Fennell that the government of India was addressing his concerns at the highest level.
He reportedly told Fennel that all issues, including crucial security concerns, had been addressed, and that the remaining concerns could easily be dealt with by the Village housekeeping staff. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, who mad a surprise visit to the Village, stated “Everything is falling into place”.
However, till Friday night, no foreign team had checked in as yet. English sportspersons, including the hockey and lawn bowls teams, checked into luxury hotels in different parts of the city and England’s chef de mission, Craig Hunter, said the teams would not move into the Village before early next week.