Another setback in India's race to get ready for Commonwealth Games

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 21, 2010; 5:47 PM

NEW DELHI - A steel footbridge under construction for the Commonwealth Games collapsed Tuesday, injuring 23 construction workers in the latest setback in the race to get India's capital ready for the multinational sporting event next month.

The bridge connects Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, which will be the main stage for the opening and closing ceremonies, with a parking lot.

Indian officials had hoped that the Oct. 3-14 event, which will bring together more than 7,000 athletes from Britain and its territories, dependencies and former colonies, would be an occasion for national pride and a showcase for India's growing global ambitions.

But the Games have been overshadowed by questions about the safety and quality of the athletic facilities, speculation about corruption, and health- and weather-related concerns.

A record-breaking monsoon season this year has slowed preparations and turned the athletes' village - a fancy condominium complex that was built on the floodplain of the Yamuna River - into a breeding ground for disease-bearing mosquitoes. Inside the village, the walls are bubbling with mold, and the floors are covered with debris and pools of stagnant water.

Athletes are due to arrive Friday, but some governments have said they will have to pay for them to be put up in hotels because the village is not ready. Earlier Tuesday, the president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Michael Fennell, urged the Indian government to finish work on the village after Commonwealth Games Scotland called the accommodations "unsafe and unfit for human habitation."

Indian organizers "have got two days to do what's probably going to take about two weeks," Steve Moneghetti, Australia's squad chief, told reporters.

Before the bridge crumbled, New Zealand's team manager, Dave Currie, said the Games might have to be canceled. The comments unleashed a frenzy here, with Indian television channels airing nonstop news reports and debates about the likelihood of the city being ready in time.

Indian officials, however, expressed confidence, saying that the facilities would be excellent and that they have faith in India's ability to pull everyone together the way a family does before a grand wedding.

The Indian news media have dubbed the event the "Con Games," citing inflated expenses such as treadmills renting at 10 times the usual cost. But Lalit Bhanot, secretary general of the Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee, said in a recent interview that the Games would demonstrate India's power.

"It is a sports event," he said, "but it will also showcase to the world that we are capable of hosting such a big event, that India is ready to enter the main club of nations where international events take place."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ordered an investigation into preparations for the events.

Correspondent Rama Lakshmi contributed to this report.

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