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Explainer: India's race to be ready for Commonwealth Games

By Simon Hooper, CNN
The closing ceremony of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, looks ahead to New Delhi 2010.
The closing ceremony of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, looks ahead to New Delhi 2010.
  • Games feature nations, territories mostly linked to former British Empire
  • Preparations for New Delhi 2010 games beset by problems, security concerns
  • Usain Bolt, the world's fastest man, one of many missing stars

(CNN) -- New Delhi is due to host the Commonwealth Games, one of the world's largest multi-sport events, from October 3, but the Indian city has been beset by problems amid a last-minute rush to be ready in time.

What is the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth is an association of 54 nations from all regions of the world mostly with historic or current ties to the UK or former British Empire. Some 1.8 billion people live in Commonwealth countries; around one-third of the global population.

The modern history of the association dates from 1949 when countries including the UK, Australia, India, Pakistan and Canada declared themselves "free and equal" members "freely co-operating in the pursuit of peace, liberty and progress." Membership swelled with decolonization but the rules for joining the Commonwealth remain flexible. Rwanda was admitted in 2009; the second member state after Mozambique with no history of British imperial rule.

And the Commonwealth Games?

As the name suggests, the games are a multi-sport event bringing together competitors from across the Commonwealth. Seventy-one nations and territories are due to compete at New Delhi 2010. The constituent nations of the UK -- England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland -- send separate teams, along with dependencies of the British crown -- the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey -- and British overseas territories such as Belize, the Falklands Islands and Gibraltar.

More than 4,000 participants compete in 17 sports: archery, aquatics, athletics, badminton, boxing, cycling, gymnastics, hockey, lawn bowls, netball, rugby sevens, shooting, squash, table tennis, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling.

The event, which takes place every four years, was first staged as the British Empire Games in 1930 in Hamilton, Canada. It has been known as the Commonwealth Games since 1978. India, the Commonwealth's biggest member state, is due to host the games for the first time, in New Delhi from October 3.

What problems do the current Games face?

Video: Claims of child labor for Games building
Video: Inside Games village
Video: Indian PM intervenes

India faces a last-minute scramble to ensure that key facilities are ready in time for the arrival of the athletes and the opening ceremonies. The country's ability to host the games has been questioned following a bridge collapse outside the main stadium and criticism of the athletes' village as uninhabitable and filthy. Meanwhile, Indian officials face mounting criticism after CNN exposed evidence that child labor was being used in the construction of games venues.

Hard evidence of child labor at 2010 Commonwealth Games

An outbreak of dengue fever following recent monsoon rains has added to New Delhi's woes while there are concerns that the games could be targeted by terrorists. Earlier this week Australia warned its citizens of a "high risk of terrorism," adding that New Delhi had seen at least 14 major attacks since 2000.

Several countries have threatened to pull out of the competition or delayed their departure for India. Individual athletes have also withdrawn, such as New Zealand cyclist Greg Henderson, citing concerns over safety and security.

Should India have been given the games in the first place?

Not according to Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates, who told reporters on Friday that awarding the games to India had been a mistake. "In hindsight, no, they shouldn't have been awarded the Games," Coates said.

India's Commonwealth Games preparations questioned

Games organizers have traditionally played it safe with the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand regularly playing host in the past. Malaysia, which hosted the games in Kuala Lumpur, 1998 is the only exception in the event's modern history.

But there were good reasons for awarding the games to India, the Commonwealth's most populace country, a booming economy and an increasingly influential global player. The move also reflects a wider trend towards taking major sporting events beyond their traditional comfort zones, such as the Beijing 2008 Olympics and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Brazil -- another BRIC economy -- is currently preparing to host both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

How important are the games as a sporting event?

Withdrawals due to safety and security concerns have served to further weaken an event already undermined by the absence of major sporting powers such as the U.S., Russia, Brazil, China and most of Europe.

The most high-profile absentee will be Usain Bolt, the world's fastest man and the reigning Olympic champion at both 100m and 200m. According to an announcement by his coach in June, the Jamaican sprinter wants to focus on his preparations for the 2011 world championships and the 2012 Olympics.

Australian world discus champion Dani Samuels and English world triple jump champion Phillips Idowu and Kenyan 800 meters world record holder David Rudisha, are among other significant no-shows in track and field. Meanwhile, two of the world's leading cyclists, Scotland's Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton of England, will miss the games to focus on November's European track championships.

For athletes at the top of their disciplines seeking to test their talents at the highest level, the Commonwealth Games will always pale by comparison to the Olympics and the world championships.