In the wake of the many shocking stories of the way the Commonwealth Games' preparation in New Delhi has been handled, an interview with Mike Fennell, president of the CWG Federation, by Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN's Devil's Advocate programme. Edited excerpts:
Quite extensive work still needs to be done?
The cleaning-up needs to be completed. There is water in the basement, elevators are not working and safety devices are not in place.
How horrified were you by the state of hygiene and filth in the village that was shown on television?
So, your warnings were ignored?
Not heeded at all. I was giving warnings until a year ago.
Secretary General of the OC (Organising Committee), Lalit Bhanot, publicly said there was a difference in standards of hygiene between India and other Commonwealth countries.
Totally unacceptable. Good hygiene is the same in all parts of the world. Hygiene has no nationality.
A second issue with the Games Village is the threat of dengue. It is built on the flood plains of the Yamuna.
Dengue is all over the world, it is not an Indian phenomenon. We had Games recently in Puerto Rico, where there are a lot of cases. Same number of athletes and there were no problems there. The necessary preventive action has to be taken. Making sure that water stagnation is treated, fogging on a regular basis. I advised people to bring whatever repellents they could.
They need to get rid of the stagnant water. Removal of water from the basements is taking longer than they had promised.
Is that dismaying you?
One of the problems is ambitious promises were made, without knowing how long it will take. That is what has disappointed people.
The Indian Central Vigilance Commission revealed in July that some of the test reports had been fabricated, the cement used in some stadiums were sub-standard. Electrical installations in 14 of 17 venues at that time had not been tested. How seriously does the federation take such reports?
Very seriously. We've asked for usage certificates, and certificates of construction and integrity of the engineering. We've read those reports and gone through them with the authorities and have received the necessary assurances.
A lot of the checks are coming from independent authorities in India. We cannot ask for more than that. We have been looking at the structural safety certificates and talking to the engineers involved. We have asked for independent people within the system to give their views.
Have you got all the safety structural certificates for the Jawahar Lal Nehru stadium?
We have got all the certificates for the stadium, but there are 34 blocks in the village and there is a general approval for the whole development. But we are asking for block by block certificates, which also include the other certificates for fire and safety because there is concern about the fire hoses, fire drills, fire alarm systems and evacuation procedures. This is not a normal procedure but because of the concern for safety, we feel we have the responsibility on behalf of all the athletes and officials coming here to ensure we validate the process which is in place.
The third issue, security. After the shooting at the Jama Masjid and after an Australian channel's sting operation exposed what they claimed were security lapses in India, which the Delhi Police considered a bogus story, how confident are you of the security preparedness?
There is no question: security planning has been very sound. People from outside India have also been invited to review it. We from the federation have employed consultants who do it all over the world. They have made periodic visits to check planning and implementation. They are here full time here now, to monitor it on a daily basis. So, we're satisfied that from the point of view of the country, the Indian government has taken very good measures for the security of India, not just the Games.
Second, the security arrangements for the Games, we feel what can be done has been put in place. The next point is how is it working? Since yesterday, we've been having discussions with the police commissioner about details of how it can work better. The funny thing is that the security has been so good that it has been restricting people's movement. This is something that we've to get a balance of.
What about the fact that the lockdown at the venues has happened only yesterday, just nine days before. The police have made it clear that they would have liked it to happen three to four weeks earlier.
We all would have liked it to be done before, but because of the importance of cleaning the village, it could not be done.
So, what are your feelings about India's overall preparedness?
It has been a difficult journey. We are learning to deal with a country, its culture, its management system and management styles. I am hoping India will also see it as a learning experience.
How would you assess the manner the OC handled the Games?
A lot of weaknesses. There was no shortage of commitment, no shortage of their desire to do the best but, sometimes, they did not quite understand the complexities of the requirements and they were a little reluctant to accept outside views as to how things should be done. When we do our review, that will be the proper time to come to a conclusion based on our analysis.
Did India make promises and commitments to secure the Games which it has been unable to live up to and fulfill?
People were encouraged that India was the largest Commonwealth country wanting to host the Games. There was no shortage of resources, of commitment of the government and the various agencies. Where we fell short is that India did not understand the complexity of holding a multi-sports game of this magnitude. Although they hosted the Asian Games many, many years ago, the world we live in is totally different. The standards, too, are a lot different and certainly we needed to convince them about these, which are international standards.
What kind of lessons need learning?
India has to understand that when you are hosting an international event, you are not hosting it as an Indian event but it has to be based on what the international requirements are. It will have its Indian flavour and that is why it is so nice to go from country to country. But there are other norms you have to satisfy. There are 70 countries participating from six different regions and each will be looking towards how other people host Games.