The controversy-hit 19th Commonwealth Games here Oct 3-14 are finally on the home stretch, despite some more pullouts by star athletes, and Australia, which hosted the previous edition, even questioning why the Games are being held in India.
After days marked by doubts and uncertainty, England's first batch of 47 officials and athletes, including the 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.
For the Organising Committee, there was much to cheer as Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) president Mike Fennell said Friday he was pleased with the confirmations of Australia, England and Wales to participate in the Games.
"I am certainly pleased to arrive in Delhi with the news that Australia has moved into the Village to get ready for the arrival of their athletes, and with the confirmation late yesterday that England and Wales will be on their way to Delhi shortly," said Fennell, who came here Thursday to review the progress.
"Already so many athletes from around the Commonwealth have started their journey to Delhi," said Fennell, who is taking stock of the Games Village Saturday.
On Friday, Fennell also met Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar, who is in overall charge of the preparations for the Games. He had sought an appointment with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but this was declined.
Fennell said he has learned considerable progress was made in the Games Village, where conditions had earlier in the week been described as "filthy and unlivable".
"The briefing I received from my CEO, Mike Hooper, last night, was that considerable improvements have been made within the Village, with further significant resources deployed by Delhi Chief Minister, Mrs. Dikshit, to make good what was a concerning situation," Fennell said.
As part of the cleanup operations, around 100 stray dogs have been rounded up from the Village and other Games venues by the capital's civic authority in coordination with an NGO, an official said Friday.
According to Fennell, "we must ensure that a suitable environment is provided to ensure the welfare of the athletes and their support staff.
"It is vital that all remedial work that has already started continues with the greatest urgency".
Even so, the England team was lodged in a five-star hotel and not in the Games Village. 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 bowls 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," The Guardian quoted Thomas as saying by.
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 Canadian archers withdrew from the Games after severely criticising the athletes accommodation.
To add to the many voices questioning 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 previous Commonwealth Games were held in Melbourne in 2006.
In all this, 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 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 S. 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 countries and territories are expected to attend the Games.