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Commonwealth Games chief says all countries will take part

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The Commonwealth Games Federation chief said on Saturday there was a lot of work to be done amid security concerns before India’s showcase event opens on Oct. 3, but that all countries were expected to take part.

Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell speaks during a news conference in New Delhi September 25, 2010. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Several athletes have pulled out of an event plagued by filthy accommodation, shoddy construction and security fears. The government is rushing to ensure everything is prepared in the week before the opening.

“There is still a lot of work to be done and it’s not over yet,” Michael Fennell, chief of Commonwealth Games Federation, said a day after he visited the Games Village.

“What is of great concern is the safety and security of athletes and officials. There will be full participation in the Games. All 71 countries will be attending.”

Athletes from 11 countries have arrived so far and the Scottish contingent was also expected on Saturday. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Northern Ireland and Wales have all confirmed they are satisfied with preparations to send their teams.

The Games, held every four years for mostly former British colonies, are estimated to have cost $6 billion. Asia’s third-largest economy was awarded them in 2003 but did not begin proper preparations until two years ago.

India had hoped to use the Games to display its growing global economic and political influence, rivalling neighbour China which put on a spectacular 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

Instead, they have become a major embarrassment for the world’s largest democracy, where infrastructure projects have progressed slowly and drag on economic growth.

(For a slideshow: Countdown to Commonwealth Games, click here)

“A lot of damage has been done to India as a country,” Fennell said.

Moody’s rating agency said investment in India could be damaged as a result. “The negative publicity could deter foreign investment and give multinational businesses considering expanding in India reason to think twice,” Moody’s Analytics, a unit of the rating agency, said in a research note.

“PROBLEMS STILL EXIST”

The first batch of athletes arrived in India on Friday, opting to stay at a hotel instead of unfinished accommodation.

Desperate officials on Friday asked the Indian Army to build a temporary bridge to replace the $1.1 million footbridge that collapsed on Tuesday. The bridge, providing access to the main Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, should be finished within five days.

The bridge collapse and a suspected militant attack on two foreign visitors threw the Games into crisis. An outbreak of dengue has only compounded worries.

Fennell said extensive work remained to be done.

“These centre around the clean-up of the (Games) village ... You can see where there has been water in the basement, and this has proven very difficult to remove,” he said.

“There are matters relating to transport, and difficulties there, the security arrangements, the fire safety arrangements, evacuation of the buildings and certification of the buildings, the technological difficulties such as the wi-fi service.”

Later, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said all but one venue had been handed over to security agencies and a remaining street venue for cycling would be secured a day before the event.

While the Indian Organising Committee has been at the receiving end of much of the flak, there is growing criticism of the Commonwealth Games Federation as well.

Fennell said much of the problem was because of the Organising Committee’s failure to understand the complexities of holding the event in India. “We all must share the blame,” he told the CNN-IBN news channel in an interview.

The Delhi Games may turn out to be the most compromised since a 1986 boycott of the Games in Britain, when 32 nations stayed away because of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s objections to sanctions against apartheid South Africa.

Cyclist Greg Henderson became the first New Zealand athlete to withdraw over concerns about health and security. Olympic cycling champion Geraint Thomas, two English riders and one Isle of Man rider also opted out of the Games.

But the event seems to be coming together amid talk that India’s market potential meant nations could hardly stay away.

“India’s cash and clout soften tough stand,” read a front-page article in Saturday’s The Times of India newspaper, noting India was Australia’s third-largest export market and an important market for Canadian goods as well.

British Prime Minister David Cameron led a huge delegation of ministers, businessmen and sports stars to India in July to show his country was serious about boosting economic exchanges.

(Additional reporting by Henry Foy and Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Alistair Scrutton; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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