Commonwealth Games' fate to be decided within 48 hours
India's prime minister to hold crisis talks with Commonwealth Games Federation's president as Welsh team gives ultimatum
Collapsed footbridge in Delhi Cranes clear wreckage after the collapse of a footbridge built for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Photograph: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/REUTERS
The fate of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi is to be decided within 48 hours as India's prime minister prepared for a round of crisis talks and the Welsh team set organisers a deadline to prove the venues and athletes' village were fit for use.
Sir Andrew Foster, the chair of Commonwealth Games England, said the future of the event remained "on a knife edge" just 11 days before the opening ceremony.
Teams that have sent advance parties raised serious concerns about the state of the accommodation, which has been described as "not fit for human habitation". A string of big-name athletes have pulled out amid security and health concerns.
The Commonwealth Games Federation's president, Mike Fennell, will arrive in Delhi tomorrow and has requested a meeting with India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh.
The Federation's chief executive, Mike Hooper, said the problems with the games' preparations had prompted Fennell to rush to Delhi far earlier than planned. His emergency trip "emphasises that this is an important issue and we obviously need to engage at the highest level to get it fixed", he said.
The Welsh team today gave organisers a deadline of this evening to confirm that all venues and the athletes' village were "fit for purpose" before deciding whether to travel.
The Commonwealth Games Council for Wales chair, Anne Ellis, said this morning's collapse of a false ceiling in the weightlifting venue – following yesterday's collapse of a footbridge outside the main stadium that injured 27 people – had added "a different dimension" to the discussion. It remains unlikely that any team will take the decision to pull out unilaterally.
"The decision will be made, but it won't be made in isolation. We have delegations from Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia out there and the decision will be made jointly," Ellis told Sky News.
"I just hope it isn't going to come to that – I hope the organising committee and the Commonwealth Games Federation will pull out all the stops to ensure it can go ahead."
The Scottish team, one of the most strident in its criticisms of the village, today delayed the departure of the first group of 41 athletes due to travel tomorrow. Scotland has 192 athletes due to participate in Delhi.
"Scotland is hugely committed to the Commonwealth Games. Our team on the ground will continue to monitor the situation. However, we will not compromise on areas of athlete health, safety and security," said Michael Cavanagh, the chairman of Commonwealth Games Scotland.
"We need urgent action from the Commonwealth Games Federation and the Delhi organising committee to address these crucial issues."
The first English athletes are also due to fly tomorrow, but the party will not include defending Commonwealth champions Christine Ohuruogu, Phillips Idowu or Lisa Dobriskey. The trio pulled out yesterday, with Idowu citing security concerns and the other two athletes blaming injury.
In addition to shoddy conditions inside and outside the buildings, there are also problems with plumbing, wiring, furnishings, internet access and mobile phone coverage. Hooper also confirmed reports of excrement found in the village.
"I've never come across this before," Hooper said of the last-minute preparations. "It's very frustrating to see the delays and the fact that we've had to come right down to the wire.
"We've been complaining about the delivery of the venues for nearly two years, and the constant delays," he told the Associated Press.
Foster said this morning that "the next 24 to 48 hours is the critical time" to determine whether the standards of the athletes' village could be raised in time.
He told the BBC that "the safety of the athletes has to be our primary concern but, equally, we cannot just respond to that alone. We have to evaluate the whole thing together and that is what we are doing."
Officials in India continued to play down the problems. "We are absolutely prepared," the cabinet secretary, KM Chandrasekhar, told CNN-IBN television today. Organisers on the ground said a vast team of cleaners would ensure the village was ready and insisted that over the next two days the "finishing touches" would be put to the 34 residential towers due to house 6,500 athletes.
Officials said the collapsed ceiling in the weightlifting venue was a "minor thing", but each new setback increases the feeling of a snowballing crisis.
Chandrasekhar said: "The cables which were to be set up for the data network were placed on the false ceiling and due to the weight of the cables the ceiling fell off. It's a minor thing and it will be corrected. It's not a matter to be worried about."
There were also fears that the status of the Commonwealth Games could be fatally undermined if the list of big-name athletes not competing continues to grow. Glasgow is due to host the next event in 2014.
Already a string of big names have withdrawn, including British athletes Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Beth Tweddle and Jessica Ennis, plus Jamaican Olympic 100m champions Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser.
A source close to the organisers of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 played down fears that the Scotland squad might pull out entirely because of the risk to the games' reputation and to Scotland as the next host of the event.
He admitted that individual athletes may independently decide not to travel as events were moving so quickly in Delhi. But he added that because the games had not yet begun, it was still too early to judge whether it was a success or not.
He said: "It's a given we will be demonstrating our support for the games in Delhi by being there. Short of travel advice changing from the Foreign Office, that's not going to change."
The Glasgow games organisers, including the Commonwealth Games' executives and senior figures in Glasgow city council, will be heavily represented in Delhi.
The council leader, Gordon Matheson, and the lord provost, Bob Winter, are due to attend the final days of the games for the official handover, with 348 performers from Scotland dancing at the closing ceremony on 14 October. Winter will be handed the official games' flag on behalf of Glasgow.
"A look into Angela Merkel’s luggage for today’s EU summit is likely to reveal an extra blouse, a big stick and no carrot."