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India Optimistic About Preparations for Commonwealth Games

A sweeper cleans the surroundings as security guards stand guard outside the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, the main venue of the Commonwealth Games early in the morning in New Delhi, India, 26 Sept. 2010.

With less than a week to go before the Commonwealth Games start in New Delhi, India has expressed optimism that preparations for the sporting event will soon be completed. Most of the attention is focused on the athletes' village, where dirty and unsafe conditions had prompted an outcry from international sports officials.

As frantic efforts continue to clean up apartments and drain water out of basements at the Commonwealth Games Village, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit sounded a reassuring note on Monday, saying conditions are "improving almost by the hour."

"We are cleaning up the rooms. We are cleaning up the public areas, the verandahs and corridors and staircases. We are all at it, a whole lot," Dikshit said. "We have already said everybody has to work double time. We will do it."

Last week, officials promised to have the athletes' housing ready by Monday. However, with much work still to be done, they moved the deadline to Wednesday. The opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games will be held Sunday.

With about half the apartments now cleaned up, hundreds of athletes and sports officials from countries like England, Australia, Canada and South Africa have begun moving into the village.

Some athletes continue to raise cleanliness issues. A South African athlete says he found a snake in his room.

The state of the village has become an international embarrassment for India. Although the apartment blocks are spacious and fitted with marble, many of the rooms and toilets were in a filthy state when foreign officials saw them last week. Electrical and plumbing defects, malfunctioning lifts, piles of building rubble and pools of stagnant water around the site added to the woes.

Many foreign teams raised health and hygiene concerns and delayed their arrival. Several others checked into hotels.

About 7,000 athletes from 71 countries are expected to participate in the multi-sport event for countries with links to the former British Empire. But about 20 top athletes have pulled out in the last week, with most of them citing health or security concerns.

However, Indian officials are expressing confidence that the games will succeed. Among them is Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

"These will be very good games. We are looking at everything. We are racing against time, no doubt about it, but we will perform," she said.

India was awarded the Games in 2003, but work at various venues only started in 2008. The lack of preparation at the athletes' village, a bridge collapse and a suspected militant attack on two foreign visitors has thrown the event into crisis and tarnished the country's image.