Swimmers from Australia, England fall ill at trouble-plagued Commonwealth Games

By Dennis Passa, AP
Thursday, October 7, 2010

Swimmers fall ill at Commonwealth Games in India

NEW DELHI — More than a dozen swimmers from Australia and England have fallen ill at the Commonwealth Games in the latest setback for trouble-plagued organizers in New Delhi.

British media reported Thursday that 20 percent of the England team’s swimmers — about eight to 10 competitors — had been struck down with a stomach virus. The Australian team confirmed at least six of its swimmers had been sick, including Andrew Lauterstein, who had to withdraw from the 50-meter butterfly.

Organizers rejected speculation that the water quality at the aquatics complex was to blame.

Craig Hunter, the head of England’s delegation, issued a statement saying he had received assurances from the games’ organizing committee that water was safe. The England team said only 8 percent of its 541-member delegation had experienced any kind of stomach virus in the previous 28 days, which was lower than expected. That’s 43 people from one team in a month.

Whether it was the water or just a case of “Delhi Belly,” which isn’t uncommon for visitors to India, it was yet another problem to plague an event that has been seen construction delays, pre-games complaints about filthy conditions in the athletes’ village, allegations of corruption and concerns about security and outbreaks of mosquito-borne dengue fever.

In another development, police confirmed Thursday that three Ugandan officials were injured by a malfunctioning security barrier at the games’ village, and a senior official from that country raised allegations of discrimination by Indian officials.

Late Thursday, a scoreboard crashed to the ground when a chain support snapped at the rugby venue, where competition does not begin until next week.

Competition manager Kevin Culliver told the games news service that the board was lifted into place two days ago by the company responsible for results and scores at the games. He said it was lucky that the crash came when no spectators were around.

For the fourth consecutive day, computer and technical problems meant there was no way to centrally process results from individual venues.

Commonwealth Games Federation President Mike Fennell said officials would conduct tests on both the main pool and the warmup pool at the Dr. S.P. Makherjee Aquatic Complex.

Fennell was asked if the swimming competition, which on Thursday was in its fourth of six days of events, might be canceled or moved if tests showed the pools to be unsafe.

“I would not like to speculate about this immediately,” Fennell said. “If there is something unsafe, you cannot swim in that water. It is a matter we have to deal with a great deal of urgency.”

The synchronized swimming event proceeded on schedule, while the main pool was idle ahead of the evening’s session of finals.

Just before the finals program began, pool announcer Kurt Hanson, brother of former Australian Olympic swimmer Brooke Hanson, told spectators: “Let us assure you there is nothing wrong with the water here.”

“The way these athletes train, their immune system is so low that they tend to pick up any bug that is going around,” he said.

Hunter had earlier said England had asked organizers for safety assurances Thursday, despite regular testing of the pool.

“If they tell us the water is fit, it’s fit,” Hunter said.

Five-time Olympic champion Ian Thorpe said he didn’t think the swimming pool was the cause of the illness.

“I’d be surprised if it was the pool because chlorine has an amazing ability to kill just about anything that we have ever created,” said Thorpe, who has retired from swimming and is working here as a TV commentator for the BBC.

Australian swim team spokesman Lachlan Searle said Lauterstein could not take part in training on Thursday morning and that Hayden Stoeckel, who won a silver medal Tuesday in the men’s 50-meter backstroke, also could not train.

“Our doctors are looking into it ,” he said.

England swim team spokesman Dave Richards said reports of the sickness had been wildly exaggerated, saying none of his country’s swimmers “has missed a competition at all.”

The questions over the pool came as Uganda’s sports minister lashed out Indian officials and demanded an apology for an accident at the athlete’s village.

Three Ugandan officials were injured Tuesday night when a spiked security barrier, which normally recedes into the ground to allow authorized vehicles to pass safely, malfunction, shot up and slammed into their car as they drove, New Delhi Police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said.

The officials, including the Ugandan chef de mission William Tumwine, were thrown about the car as it braked sharply and sustained injuries ranging from cuts on the head to abrasions around their eyes, said Dora Kutesan, a Ugandan diplomat.

They were treated at a hospital and kept overnight for observation, and the Ugandan high commission filed a complaint with the Indian government, she said.

Ugandan Sports Minister Charles Bakkabulindi said he was furious that he had not received an apology from India.

“If they had seen their mistake quickly and shown sympathy that they have done a mistake, we wouldn’t have been annoyed. We would have said, ‘OK that’s an accident,’” he told India’s Times Now television. “But our concern is why is it that they are not coming out to say sorry to us, to make an apology. Should we take it that they are discriminating (against) some of the African countries to that extent?”

The games, which run until Oct. 14, have also been plagued this week by sparse attendance at many events. Organizing committee chief Suresh Kalmadi said 125,000 tickets had been sold Wednesday for future events, allaying concerns about the empty seats at some of the venues.

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