* 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.
Welsh officials said that they, too, were happy about the assurances given at a meeting yesterday morning and are ready to move in.
New Zealand and Canada have delayed the departure of their teams but are still expected to take a full part in the Games, while the Australians announced they were to send experts to assess hygienic conditions in the Village before their athletes took up their quarters.
Dave Currie, New Zealands chef de mission and previously one of the more vocal critics, said: There is some hope now. Im more optimistic now that someone has taken ownership. But its a bit like trying to stop the Titanic and putting it in another direction.
Last night, as the Indian government met to consider their next step, AK Mattoo, the Gamess treasurer: admitted: This is a collective failure.
ATHLETES WHO HAVE PULLED OUT OF THE GAMES
Mo Farah (left)
Paula Radcliffe (left)
Perri Shakes- Drayton
Beth Tweddle (left)
Geraint Thomas (left)
Isle of Man
Lleyton Hewitt (left)
Usain Bolt (left)
Asafa Powell (left)
Janeth Jepkosgei (left)
HOW THE COMMONWEALTH SEES IT
Sir Andrew Foster, chairman of Commonwealth Games England, said on Wednesday that the Games were "on a knife-edge" and that "the next 24 to 48 hours" were "critical". Craig Hunter, chef de mission of Team England, said yesterday he had still not been assured about the habitability of the athletes' village and the safety of the venues. The first wave of English athletes, from lawn bowls and hockey, are due to arrive today and they are likely to be housed in hotels for the time being.
Have delayed the departure of their team until Tuesday. Chef de mission David Currie met Sheila Dikshit, chief minister of the Delhi Government, yesterday. "She has brought leadership and a layer of administration to act," he said. "There is some hope now. I'm more optimistic now that someone has taken ownership. But it's a bit like trying to stop the Titanic and putting it in another direction."
Have delayed their departure from yesterday until Sunday because of concerns about the state of the village. "The decision to delay departures is part of our contingency planning," said Scott Stevenson, Commonwealth Games Canada's director of sport. "We remain cautiously optimistic that if the pace of work in the village continues at its current rate we'll be in a position to start welcoming athletes and coaches in the next 72 hours." Archers Dietmar Trillus and Kevin Tataryn withdrew yesterday because of safety concerns. "I'll take my safety over a medal any day," Tataryn said.
Confirmed yesterday that their athletes will arrive on Monday. Perry Crosswhite, chief of the Australian Commonwealth Games Association, said that team members could expect clean, hygienic rooms in the village. "We are having all apartments professionally cleaned and we are confident that these will be in acceptable condition for the initial arrival of team athletes on 27 September," he said. Discus thrower Dani Samuels has withdrawn because of fears over safety and health.
Will be travelling to Delhi on Sunday, as scheduled. Tubby Reddy, the chief executive of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, said yesterday that his organisation was satisfied with preparations in Delhi. "We are satisfied that every area of our concern has been covered for now," he said. However, he added the following rider: "The safety and health of Team South Africa are of paramount importance to us and if at any stage we feel that this is compromised then we will not hesitate to bring the team back home."…