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Top Athletes to Skip Commonwealth Games in India

With criticism of Indian organizers of the Commonwealth Games growing, the Commonwealth Games Federation chief is rushing to India to meet the prime minister. Some top athletes have pulled out of the games, while others have postponed their arrival for the event hosted by India starting October 3 over concerns about the state of the venue.

Wednesday brought more bad news for the organizers as two top athletes, Australian world discus champion, Dani Samuels, and English world triple jump champion, Phillips Idowu, pulled out of the games. Samuels cited health and security worries, while Idowu said his safety is more important than winning a medal.

A contingent of 41 athletes from Scotland postponed their departure for India for a few days, saying they will not compromise on areas of health, safety and security. They said this will give Indian authorities' time to fix the residential facilities for the athletes, which they described as "unsafe and unfit for habitation."

In the meantime, Commonwealth Games Federation chief Mike Fennell is flying in for a meeting Thursday with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss the problems surrounding the event.

Serious concerns have been raised over the lack of preparedness at different venues where the Commonwealth Games are to be held, particularly the athletes' village which has been described as "filthy." Delhi is also in the grip of a dengue epidemic blamed on stagnant pools of water accumulated at construction sites.

Security concerns were highlighted after two foreign tourists were shot at by unidentified gunmen in the Indian capital on Sunday.

Adding to the woes, a section of a false ceiling at the weightlifting venue in the main stadium for the games collapsed on Wednesday, heightening concerns about the quality of construction. The latest mishap occurred a day after a pedestrian bridge close to the same venue collapsed.

The chief minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit dismissed these as minor problems.

"I would like to tell you very categorically that these minor glitches and hitches do come around whenever a building is new," Dikshit said. "There will be some problems, there are some problems, but they are not insurmountable problems."

But some of the big countries which are participating in the event such as Australia, Britain and Canada are seeking more reassurance. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he would support any of his country's athletes who decide not to come to Delhi. The Australian sports minister, Mark Arbib, said he did not rule out the withdrawal of more athletes.

For their part, Indian organizers are reassuring the participating countries that all will be well. They say the village where the games are being held is being spruced up and will be impeccable, the stadiums are world class, and security will be fool-proof.

Some 7,000 athletes from 71 countries linked to the former British Empire are taking part in the games.