Games face mass exodus

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NEW DELHI, September 23- The chaotic Delhi Commonwealth Games faced dire warnings Thursday of a mass pullout by teams as organisers worked frantically to save the event from disaster with just 10 days to go.Eight countries have written a joint letter to the Indian organisers, demanding a list of conditions covering security and hygiene be met or they will refuse to compete, the BBC reported without naming the nations.

The head of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Michael Fennell, was due Thursday to hold crisis talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi and the first athletes were due to begin arriving at the athletes’ village.

Foreign Minister SM Krishna insisted that security was a priority and promised the games would be a success, despite a shambolic buildup that has tarnished India’s hopes of showcasing its modern dynamism.

"I can assure you with all the confidence at my level that we will be able to deliver on the Commonwealth Games and it will be one of the most successful games that the Commonwealth will have undertaken," he said.

But several world-class athletes have already pulled out of the October 3-14 event, and New Zealand on Thursday joined other nations including Canada and Scotland in delaying its team’s departure.

"It’s tremendously disappointing," New Zealand’s games chief Mike Stanley said in a statement.

"The long list of outstanding issues has made it clear the village will now not be ready for New Zealand athletes to move in as planned," he said.

The village has been described by various delegations as "filthy" and "unfit for human habitation", and the president of Canada’s games delegation launched a scathing attack on the Indian organisers.

"Their indifference at times has seemed to border on the intransigent to us, and that’s just unacceptable," Andrew Pipe told the BBC.

Months of warnings to the organisers "have fallen on deaf ears", he said.

"There are certain principles from which we will not shrink," Pipe added, citing a well-worn list of concerns about security, shoddy infrastructure and the state of the village.

New Delhi had been expecting 7,000 athletes and officials for the multi-sport showpiece for Commonwealth countries, mostly nations and territories formerly in the British empire.

India was hoping to show off its progress and growing economic might — the "shining India" of nine percent economic growth, high-tech software companies and new diplomatic clout on the international stage.

But a footbridge collapse this week and a shooting outside New Delhi’s main mosque have brought simmering disquiet to a head, coming after well-documented delays, political infighting and allegations of corruption.

Swimming New Zealand chief executive Mike Byrne said his team was mulling taking part in an alternative swimming meet "if the unthinkable happens and the games are cancelled".

Swimming superpower Australia also said it had looked into alternatives if the games in India are scrapped, but insisted it still planned to travel to New Delhi.

Singapore laughed off suggestions that it might step in as a last-minute replacement venue, after successfully hosting the inaugural Youth Olympics last month.

"That’s a new one!" Christopher Chan, Singapore’s National Olympic Council secretary-general, told the BBC.

But Chan, speaking shortly after arriving in New Delhi, said the state of the event with so little time to spare was no laughing matter.

"I just flew in and am having meeting after meeting. I hope to get some clear answers from the people concerned," he said.

"The organising committee has workers trying frantically to clear up the mess. Time is running out."

The first 22 competitors from England, including the lawn bowls and hockey teams, were due to fly to Delhi on schedule on Thursday night, the country’s federation confirmed.

But the athletes’ village, a sprawling complex near Delhi’s main river, was described by Fennell on Tuesday as "seriously compromised", while his deputy Mike Hooper detailed a series of complaints from participating nations.

Builders’ rubble was still strewn in the residential towers, some shower doors were put on backwards, toilets were blocked or leaking and there were various problems with the electrics.

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