Problems Fuel Doubts About Commonwealth Games

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India is hosting the Commonwealth Games this year. There are doubts about whether the sports venues and athlete residences will be completed by Oct. 3, when the games are set to begin.

India is about to host a big party this week, but it doesn't seem quite ready. The Commonwealth Games begin in New Delhi this Sunday. They are a huge undertaking, with athletes from 71 countries and territories associated with the former British empire competing. As the clock ticks down, many people are worried that India's not be prepared. Elliot Hannon reports from New Delhi.

(Soundbite of hammering)

ELLIOTT HANNON: At New Delhi's Connaught Place market, one of the city's biggest tourist attractions, workers are busy laying new sidewalks. The street is lined with bulldozers and cranes. It's all part of a last-minute crash to get ready for the Commonwealth Games later this week.

When India won the right to host the Games, the government drew up an ambitious plan, not only to build stadiums, but also give its capital city a makeover. But a year before the games were to begin, alarm bells began to sound. Construction deadlines came and went. The country's organizing committee, however, shrugged off concerns the city might not be ready.

Last week, when a footbridge connecting the athletes village to the event's main stadium collapsed, those fears where reignited. The athlete's village, to accommodate 7,000 competitors, was unfinished and in disrepair. The Indian media saw it as a sign of looming disaster.

Unidentified Woman (Newscaster): Tonight, after the fiasco, can the Commonwealth Games still succeed?

Unidentified Man (Newscaster): Just 50 days before the games, the credibility of the Commonwealth Games have taken a huge beating.

Unidentified Man: They seem to have hit a point of no return. It seems to be a really, really darker...can we still salvage the Commonwealth Games and salvage national pride?

HANNON: Several top athletes from the U.K. and Australia pulled out of the event. Participating countries questioned whether the event should be held at all.

Mani Shankar Aiyar, India's former Sports Minister asks the same question.

Mr. MANI SHANKAR AIYAR (Former Sports Minister, India): It is obvious that while the economy is growing, that is while India is prospering, Indians are not. But because there has been this success on one parameter, those who have benefited from that want to project India on the international stage as coming economic superpower.

HANNON: That set the bar high, and the country has struggled to live up to its own expectations. Several projects were scrapped. Allegations of corruption and mismanagement have grown louder, as have complaints about the working conditions and wages of construction crews preparing for the event. Unusually persistent monsoon rains caused delays.

Suman Bery, of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, says all of this has exposed some of India's flaws.

Mr. SUMAN BERY (National Council of Applied Economic Research): It was allowed to be administered as business as usual. And I think the lesson is that business as usual in the Indian public sector increasingly does not work.

HANNON: For NPR News, I'm Elliot Hannon in New Delhi.

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