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Commonwealth Games chief: More needs to be done in India

By the CNN Wire Staff
Indian laborers sit on the semi-finished pavement heading to Jawarhal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi on September 25 ahead of the upcoming Commonwealth Games.
Indian laborers sit on the semi-finished pavement heading to Jawarhal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi on September 25 ahead of the upcoming Commonwealth Games.
  • Mike Fennell says a lot of work still needs to be done at the games
  • Indian organizers are responding to the needs, he says
  • Now is not the time for finger-pointing, Fennell says

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- A lot of work remains to be done at the venues and athletes' village at the Commonwealth Games in India, just a week before they are due to begin, the head of the games said Saturday.

"It's not over yet. There is still a lot of work to be done," said Mike Fennell, president of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

Fennell spoke to reporters in New Delhi after a week of criticism and concern about safety and security, and the apparent poor state of the athletes' accommodation.

He said the Indian organizing committee was "responding to the needs in a very positive way" and that now was not the time for finger-pointing, with the games due to open Oct. 3.

"I'm well aware that we could say to them this should have been done before, yes, but right now we're concentrating on getting it right, and all systems are geared toward ensuring that the remedial work that's necessary is done and completed in time," Fennell said.

The "great concern" remains safety and security at the athletes' village and making sure the buildings are equipped with the necessary fire and alarm systems, Fennell said.

Video: Cost of the Commonwealth Games

Organizers scrambled to pull the games together after a pedestrian bridge at a stadium collapsed Tuesday and officials called village accommodation uninhabitable and filthy. Pictures emerged showing soiled rooms that included excrement, exposed wiring, and animal footprints on a mattress.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other top officials got involved. Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram told CNN on Friday that all security issues had been addressed and that the midnight Friday deadline to clean up the venues was met.

Chidambaram said 10 of the 11 village venues had been taken over by security, with another to be taken over shortly. More than 1,000 cleaners entered the athletes' village Friday, armed with brooms, mops and other cleaning supplies to get the facility into shape.

Asked why there hadn't been more monitoring of the progress in the seven years since New Delhi was awarded the games, Fennell said on the contrary, he has noted the poor progress before.

"Last year, when I paid a visit, I made some very critical remarks about what needed to be done, and there were a lot of people that were upset about those remarks at the time," Fennell said. "But I said far more needed to be done very urgently, and I have had visits subsequently ... and we pointed out all along the way what needed to be done. So this is not something that was just discovered now."

Fennell said it is the local organizing committee that is ultimately responsible for the preparation of the games. He pointed out the committee depends on developers to deliver the venues on time, though he said organizers must monitor the progress of that construction.

New Delhi organizing committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi said Fennell was not singling out organizers for blame.

"We have taken on the venues a little late, and that's where the problems came," he said. As head of the committee, "I will take on the blame," he said, "but I wish the venues were handed over to me last year."

Concerns about the conditions for the New Delhi games have prompted some teams like Canada and New Zealand to delay their departures and some athletes to cancel their trips altogether. Other teams, like Scotland and Wales, departed for the games after receiving assurances from organizers.

English diver Peter Waterfield on Saturday became the latest athlete to withdraw, citing security fears and conditions at the village.

"I have a wife and two young children who were very concerned about me attending the event and this decision is one that we have made as a family," said Waterfield, an Olympic and Commonwealth Games medalist. "My decision to pull out of the Commonwealth Games has been especially hard because I am probably in the best form I have ever been in at the moment."

Such concerns led to the withdrawals Friday of New Zealand cyclist Greg Henderson and four British cyclists -- Peter Kennaugh from the Isle of Man, Geraint Thomas from Wales, and Ian Stannard and Ben Swift from England. The withdrawal of the four British cyclists was confirmed by Team Sky, their professional cycling team.

The Commonwealth Games take place every four years among members of the former British empire.

Fennell defended the decision to give the games to India and called it the right host for the competition.

"We've got to give these people an opportunity to learn how to host these events," he told Olympic news website Around the Rings after arriving in New Delhi. "India's the largest Commonwealth country that we have, with 1.2 billion people. How will you ever know unless they're given an opportunity to make an effort?"