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Nation races to turn Games into success

delhi Updated: Oct 02, 2010 09:10 IST

AFP
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India raced on Saturday to make final preparations for the Delhi Commonwealth Games with the start just a day away, desperately hoping to reverse the tide of bad publicity.

Organisers said they were confident of putting on a great show at the 12-day event, whose cost has ballooned from 100 million dollars when it was awarded in 2003 to six billion dollars -- making it the most expensive Games ever.

"We are sure the Games will be a huge success. We are working round the clock to ensure its success," Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said.

India has been hugely embarrassed by revelations about rampant corruption in Games spending and "filthy" conditions in the athletes' village with a barrage of complaints about plumbing, drainage and electrical problems.

There had even been fears the Games might have to be abandoned with several teams warning last week they could pull out.

But with the showpiece to be declared officially open on Sunday, thousands of athletes have arrived and the last-ditch desperate clean-up of the village seems to be paying off.

Experienced England badminton player Nathan Robertson said the athletes' accommodation in the chaotic Indian capital was up there with the best he has seen in four Commonwealth Games.

"The village quality has been very good, the food hall's excellent -- actually the accommodation is possibly some of the best we've stayed in," he said.

Competitors said they now wanted to put the controversies behind them and focus on doing their best at the Games, which India had hoped would allow the country to showcase itself as a dynamic emerging power.

"We are looking forward to test ourselves against the best in the world. Who knows, we might cause an upset or two," said Indian rugby captain Nasser Hussain, whose side is ranked one of the underdogs.

The first teams arrived in Delhi last week to find the athletes' village was unfinished and that a new footbridge next to the centrepiece main stadium had collapsed, injuring more than two dozen workers.

A small number of athletes -- some high-profile -- have withdrawn due to health and security fears.

The health concerns were underlined when the Games' chief medical officer fell sick Friday with suspected typhoid, a food and water-borne illness that is an ever-present danger in India.

Foreign spectators will be far fewer than the 100,000 organisers had hoped for with worries about an outbreak of dengue fever -- a potentially fatal mosquito-borne disease -- shambolic preparations and fear of militant attacks deterring many visitors.

Since Mumbai 2008, when Pakistan-based Islamist militants killed 166 people in a 60-hour assault, India has been fearful the Games could be a target.

The capital has been blanketed by massive security with 17,000 paramilitary troopers reinforcing 80,000 police.

All Games facilities are surrounded by high walls and barbed wire fences, with manned watchtowers erected over strategic locations and closed-circuit television cameras monitoring public areas.

Authorities have even deployed a team of trained langurs -- a large type of monkey -- to chase away smaller simians from the sporting extravaganza, which features 71 nations and territories formerly belonging to the British Empire.

"Turn your attention toward the Games -- enjoy the Games," said Home Minister P Chidambaram.

He has promised "foolproof" security.