India's diplomatic disaster

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LISA MULLINS: It's not the retirement age that's causing headaches for the government in India today. It's the disastrous organization behind a sporting event that India is about to host. The Commonwealth Games, for athletes from countries that were once part of the British Empire, are scheduled to start in Delhi in just 10 days. But today the Indian government held a crisis meeting to address a long list of problems that threaten to derail the games before they even begin. There's talk of athletes pulling out or delaying their arrival because of serious health and safety concerns. The list seems never ending. Part of the ceiling at one venue fell in. A footbridge collapsed. There are photos of filthy athlete rooms with dog paw prints on beds. They've all been posted online. The BBC's Mark Dummett says it gets even worse.

MARK DUMMETT: Every single deadline for construction on getting everything ready in time for the games has been missed. Even though the organizers have known for the past seven years that they're going to be holding the games here. And it really is crunch time now because the athletes have already begun to arrive. But work on the village hasn't been finished yet. And in, equally in other parts of the city and other projects, work hasn't been finished there either. So, it's looking pretty bad for these games. They will go ahead, but I think a lot of people are going to be very disappointed about the manner in which they are held.

MULLINS: I've got to say that it seems as if this kind of thing happens before every major set of athletic games. Before Olympics, before the World Cup, that everybody's wondering if the venue is really, really ready. In this case, though, I have to say it seems like the story's more serious than ever.

DUMMETT: Yeah, absolutely. And that's what the government here has been saying. They're saying look, everyone always complains about this kind of thing, as you said, whenever there's a big sporting event, but it always gets completed. Well, frankly, not everything will be completed. I mean there are already one or two venues which were planned to hold certain events and events aren't going to be held there because those venues just simply are not ready. And some of the things that we've been hearing about the athlete's village are really quite shocking. Just simple work hasn't been finished yet. Some of the rooms haven't been plastered yet. To make matters much worse, Delhi has been hit by the strongest monsoon season in 32 years. And the heavy rains have obviously made things much harder. And a lot of rooms in the athlete's village have been flooded.

MULLINS: I think what's confounding about it is that games like this are such a showcase not only for the athletes but for the host country as well. In this case one would think that officials in New Delhi would have responded to the concerns a lot sooner than this. Is there any kind of sign right now that, you say the games will go on, they will start next week when they're supposed to, but is there any kind of sign that some of the places will be brought up to snuff between now and then?

DUMMETT: I mean clearly not everywhere will be ready. One of the problems is that the government had a very, very ambitious plan to renovate the whole city, so they built a new terminal, international terminal, at the airport. They built several new metro lines, lots of new roads. They have bought millions of plants to beautify the whole city. Well, these are still being planted now. And the roads [INDISCERNIBLE] curbsides are still being painted now in the rain. It's just a mess. You know, the city is a mess. It's really sad for all of us who hoped that India would be able to show itself off to the rest of the world. I mean India's got so much to be proud about it. Recent achievement, recent success stories. But sadly all of it's old weaknesses, it's corruption, it's mismanagement, shoddy workmanship, terrible climate, security fears, tropical diseases, all of that bad stuff's been exposed and very little of the good stuff's been produced.

MULLINS: Alright. Maybe that will come next week then. Mark Dummett, thank you very much.

DUMMETT: Okay, thank you.

MULLINS: That's the BBC's Mark Dummett speaking to us from New Delhi, India. Nat King Cole, Cuban-style, still to come on PRI, Public Radio International.