A pedestrian walkway under construction at New Delhi's biggest Commonwealth Games stadium toppled off its pilings and slid into the mud, sending two dozen workers to hospital and jeopardizing Indian hopes that the event would showcase the emergence of a leading can-do superpower, able to rival China and its spectacularly successful 2008 Beijing Olympics.
It was merely the latest blow to an event that has been plagued by corruption, construction delays, heavy monsoon rains and security scares.
There were also new concerns about the Games' facilities, with Scottish representatives describing the athletes village as "unsafe and unfit for human habitation." Some athletes have pulled out, and there was mention of the C-word: cancellation.
But Canadian Commonwealth Games officials said there is no plan yet for Canada or any of the 70-plus Commonwealth teams to skip the XIX Commonwealth Games, or to move them to another place.
"We are monitoring hour-by-hour the progress and safety of the buildings where athletes are to be housed in New Delhi when they start to arrive Sept. 24," said Andrew Pipe, president of Canada's Commonwealth Games Committee, which plans to send 255 athletes, 51 coaches and 52 staffers for the Oct. 3-14 event.
Canadian Commonwealth sport director Scott Stevenson, part of the advance team in New Delhi, said some of the apartments do not have electricity or plumbing connected, and cleanup of the construction sites has lagged. "Completion of the village has left something to be desired," he said. "But everything on the international side of the fence and training venues on the grounds have been absolutely spectacular."
For three years, local newspapers have warned that the Commonwealth Games were in trouble. The Times of India said Tuesday that only 18 of 34 towers are complete, and there are reports of widespread ground-level flooding, fixtures installed improperly, and apartments awash in rubble and filth, including human feces. Construction workers and stray dogs have been living in the apartments, which are unlocked.
Speaking at a news conference in Delhi, Lalit Bhanot, secretary-general of the Delhi organizing committee, said the authorities understood the concerns shown by some member countries and the Commonwealth Games Federation. But he suggested that the complaints could be due to "cultural differences."
"Everyone has different standards about cleanliness," he said. "The Westerners have different standards, we have different standards."
Mr. Bhanot said the situation was "under control" and that he was "sure and confident" that cleaning in the residential areas would be complete by the time teams start arriving Thursday.
"Fingers crossed, India may pull off a miracle," said Boria Majumdar, a sports historian who has written the book Sellotape Legacy: Delhi and the Commonwealth Games. "But it will have to be a miracle. No doubt about that."
Some officials say foreigners do not understand how India works. Sport Minister Manohar Singh Gill said it is like an Indian wedding where chaos ends in a well-planned ceremony.
British bookmaker William Hill has begun to take bets on whether the games will go ahead. The company began Tuesday offering 5-1 odds that the event would be cancelled, then lowered them to 4-1 after the bridge collapse.
Shoddy construction is a reminder of India's persistent and basic infrastructure deficit, while highlighting the nation's inability to work to established international safety standards. A government report earlier this year confirmed that 43 people were killed during Games' construction while another 100 workers were killed building the city's new subway system.
The Games have also highlighted widespread corruption. New Delhi has spent an estimated $4.6-billion (U.S.) on the Games so far - seven times more than planned. The government's own Central Vigilance Commission has identified questionable financial practices at 16 projects.
The Games were expected to attract 7,000 athletes and visitors to New Delhi, but city hotels report lower occupancy rates than normal for the time of year. Security fears outside of the Games' site may be partly to blame; earlier this week, two Taiwanese tourists were shot near the city's biggest mosque by gunmen on motorbikes. The attack was claimed by the Indian mujahedeen, a low-level affiliate of the Kashmir-linked Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist group.
All these issues might have been manageable were it not for an unexpected sucker punch from Mother Nature.
New Delhi more normally suffers from drought, but as these Games approach, India's capital city finds itself awash with water thanks to a late and heavy monsoon. Heavy, intermittent rain has swelled the Yamuna River, and overwhelmed the city's virtually non-existent storm and sewer drainage system.
Inadequate drainage throughout the city may have compromised some of the new structures, while creating swamps that are abuzz with mosquitoes transmitting dengue fever. Similar to malaria, dengue is notoriously fatal for children, but Delhi hospitals are full and turning all but the most severe cases away.
One reason the athlete's village is flooded is because the Yamuna has burst its banks, and - responding to a critical land shortage - city planners overruled the objections of activists and decided to build the village on the Yamuna floodplain.
Sarah Davison is Special to The Globe and Mail/Reuters/CP