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Tuesday , August 24 , 2010
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Rain, rain, save face and come again
Hunt for ‘excuse’ to defer Games

New Delhi, Aug. 23: Like a cricket team facing defeat, some of those involved in Commonwealth Games preparations are looking to the rain to escape embarrassment.

Officials have told The Telegraph that if the heavy rains now lashing Delhi continue well into September, it would be impossible to finish the preparations in time for the October 3-14 event.

But that could be a “blessing in disguise”, an official said. It will provide India with the perfect excuse to get the event postponed, thus securing an honourable exit from a messy situation, he explained.

The unending rain, the heaviest in a decade, has further hobbled Games preparations just when the government had stepped in to speed up work and save India the blushes on the international stage. Yet the rain would not have mattered had the preparations been on schedule right from the beginning.

Those most enthusiastic about a postponement, therefore, are officials from the government agencies engaged in Games-related construction, whose tardy and substandard work have already embarrassed the country globally.

At a meeting with the group of ministers (GoM) for the event, held on August 15, agencies such as the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) created a buzz about a possible postponement. They told the GoM it would be difficult to complete construction if the rain continued till September 10 or 15.

The India Meteorological Department has forecast heavy rain in north India for September as well.

A postponement is certain to cause the government a loss of face, for the Games have never been put off before and were cancelled only twice — because of the Second World War — in 1942 and 1946.

Yet, if the rain continues and these agencies throw up their hands, the government may be presented with a fait accompli. It will then have to recommend a postponement to the Commonwealth Games Federation, which too will be left with little option.

Sources said the likely date for a deferred Games could be end-October or early December to avoid a clash with the Asian Games, scheduled in November in Guangzhou, China. A deferred Commonwealth Games could lose many athletes to year-end events in their disciplines.

The pro-postponement camp may be helped by the dengue scare in Delhi, which has received wide international coverage and moved the GoM to express concern at the August 15 meeting.

Dengue cases have been reported even among the labourers and engineers at Games sites, particularly the Games Village and the Vasant Kunj flats that will house foreign visitors such as media technicians and team support staff.

The Yamuna floodwaters are now threatening the Games Village. At the meeting, the GoM was informed that “it appeared... that (only) 3,000 of the 5,000 (DDA) flats” at Vasant Kunj would be available. “The dining hall was not ready and as a standby, the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) was planning to erect a hangar for the dining hall.”

Landscaping and levelling is still on, debris is strewn about, the electricity is erratic and “the area is infested with mosquitoes”, the minutes of the meeting say. The GoM was told that if work on the flats extended beyond September 10, it would be difficult for ITDC even to put up makeshift arrangements by September 15, when teams are expected to start arriving.

“It would be an understatement to describe the situation as alarming. It is calamitous,” a senior official associated with Games projects said.

Sources said the Australian and New Zealand teams had indicated they would prefer to train in Singapore and arrive in Delhi a few days before the opening ceremony.

The home ministry and Delhi police have expressed reservations about having to put in place security apparatus at a short notice.

“It’s impossible to carry out security drills with construction continuing at nearly all the sites, with labourers flitting in and out of stadiums,” an official said. The home ministry had wanted at least 90 days for the security drills.

For now, many are praying to the weather gods. Whether for more rain or less is anybody’s guess.

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