Athletes Pull out as British Teams' Endorsements Are Undermined

Article excerpt

* England's advance party fly to Delhi * Wales and Scotland will attend Games * But more high-profile names withdraw

WHILE OFFICIALS from the home countries expressed growing confidence that the Commonwealth Games will go ahead as scheduled and began dispatching their teams to Delhi, the athletes themselves appear far from convinced. Yesterday the cyclists Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh, two of the sports rising stars, added to the growing number of big names pulling out of the troubled event.

Thomas, who was due to ride for Wales, and the Isle of Mans Kennaugh both cited health fears as their reasons for withdrawal. They suggested that more would follow their lead and an hour later it was announced that Ian Stannard and Ben Swift, two more Team Sky riders, had pulled out of the England team.

The organisers, still relentlessly optimistic, claimed last night that the Athletes Village was now in good condition as the first 120 members of the Indian team moved in. Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the organising committee, said that he expected all the teams to take part in the Games that are supposed to open in Delhi in nine days time.

Kennaugh said: I was keen to go but with the situation there, Ive decided not to. I dont think its very safe, and you dont know whats going to happen next. Ive got a long career in front of me and youve got to weigh it up and ask is it really worth it.

When I heard about the bridge collapsing, and the problems with the village, I decided I didnt want to risk it. We talked to a few people but the decision came down to me.

The withdrawal of Kennaugh and Thomas, a multi-world champion and Olympic gold medallist, in particular is another telling blow for the image of the Games and its standing as a first-rate sporting event. Earlier in the week Phillips Idowu decided not to defend his triple-jump title. He said it was because of fears over the safety of the event in the wake of the collapse of a bridge near the stadium.

Kennaugh and Thomass concern is catching the mosquito borne illness Dengue fever. The extensive building work around Delhi has created ideal breeding conditions that led to an outbreak in the city. There were reports yesterday that two Indian cyclists had contracted it after training in Delhi. Dengue has been a major concern, said Graham Seers, Indias cycling coach.

The first wave of Englands more than 500-strong squad the lawn bowlers and hockey team departed for India last night as they had always been scheduled to. They will stay in hotel accommodation until the urgent clean-up operation in the Village is completed.

Craig Hunter, chef de mission of Team England, said in Delhi yesterday that they would remain in hotels to recover from jetlag and then move into the Village when the facilities there became habitable. Judging by photographs posted on the BBC website yesterday which The Independent understands were taken earlier this week by Scottish officials parts of the village have been in a desperate state with crumbling masonry and human faeces littering some of the accommodation blocks.

However, both Scotland and Wales were sufficiently assured by a pledge of concerted action yesterday from Sheila Dikshit, the chief minister of the Delhi government, to start making preparations for the departure of their athletes.

After postponing flights for their first wave of athletes, who had been dueto leave from Glasgow yesterday, Team Scotland officials said that they were now hopeful of the assurances they have been seeking being met.

Jon Doig, Scotlands chef de mission, said: Things are looking much better.

We feel we will be in a position to confirm tomorrow that our team will travel as scheduled on Saturday. Those assurances include accommodation maintenance, plus proof that all structural safety certificates for the village and the venues are in place. …