Games chief inspects venues

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NEW DELHI, August 18 – Commonwealth Games Federation chief Michael Fennell began a two-day tour Wednesday of the much-delayed venues for the Delhi showpiece as the city struggles to be ready just 46 days from the start.The Indian capital resembles a construction site in areas, with some of the venues still unfinished and public sentiment turning against the three-billion-dollar competition after a series of corruption scandals.

Fennell is expected to meet senior government leaders, possibly including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during his visit and will also address the executive board of the organising committee.

Most venues, some renovated and others brand new, have only recently been handed over to the organising committee to make them ready — at least six months behind schedule.

The desperate race to get everything finished in time has been hampered by heavy monsoon rains that have turned worksites across the city into mudbaths and even flooded some of the venues.

The main Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, where the ceremonies and athletics will take place, is still being worked on, as is the swimming pool complex, the table-tennis hall and the shooting ranges.

The event, already the most expensive Commonwealth Games with official estimates of three billion dollars, has been marred by charges of rampant corruption, dubious contracts and poor workmanship.

Singh, worried that India’s image as a growing global economic power was being hurt by the accusations, stepped in last week to rescue the troubled Games.

He gave "overriding powers" to a panel of government ministers and secretaries to take over management of the preparations as organisers struggled in the race against time.

The move was seen as a direct slight to Indian organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi, who has faced demands inside parliament and in the media to quit amid the scandals swirling around the Games.

Kalmadi, who also heads the Indian Olympic Association and has denied any wrongdoing, is a senior leader of Singh’s ruling Congress party.

An Indian anti-corruption body this month reported it had found a host of problems with construction work, including use of poor quality materials.

The media said some quality certificates issued to the venues turned out to be fake or "suspect."

The reports prompted Kalmadi to address a press conference where he slammed the media for conducting a "prejudiced campaign".

New Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, charged with building the infrastructure both inside and outside the venues, defended the charges in the media.

"It is the media’s job to highlight deficiencies, but the impression that the Games are nothing but loot is not correct," Dikshit told the Kolkata-based Telegraph newspaper on Wednesday.

"Over 90 percent of work is over. The delays are part of such large preparations. It was seen in China, in Greece and elsewhere. I can assure people that Delhi will be a much better place after the Games."

Top Commonwealth sports stars like athletes Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell, tennis stars Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur, and ace cyclist Chris Hoy, have decided to skip the Games.

The event, India’s biggest sporting festival since the Asian Games in 1982, will feature athletes from 71 Commonwealth nations and territories featuring in 17 disciplines.

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