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Athletes village 'greatly improved'

India's beleaguered preparations for the Commonwealth Games have been boosted after two top international sports officials said conditions at the squalid athletes' village had greatly improved, though they said clean-up work should continue urgently.

After holding its team back because of the problems, New Zealand has now decided to attend the games. And the first foreign athletes - the English hockey and lawn bowling teams - have arrived in New Delhi, although they plan to stay in hotels for a few days before moving to the village.

"Everybody is very excited, wants to get there, you know, get in with the action and get going, really," Caroline Searle, spokeswoman for the English team, said as the athletes left the airport.

The games were intended to be a source of international pride for India but corruption scandals, huge delays in getting facilities ready and the filthy conditions at the games village have turned the event into an embarrassment.

At least nine athletes have withdrawn from the games in recent days because of concern for their health and safety, and the president of Australia's Olympic Committee said on Friday that India should not have been awarded the games in the first place.

Amid the criticism this week about conditions in the village, India committed major resources to rectifying the problems before the games, which bring together about 7,000 athletes and officials from 71 countries and territories, beginning on October 3.

Commonwealth Games Federation President Mike Fennell, who rushed to New Delhi to deal with the troubles, toured the village on Friday and met senior athletics officials from participating countries.

Mr Fennel's staff informed him that "considerable improvements have been made within the village", he said in a statement.

"It is vital that all remedial work that has already started continues with the greatest urgency," he said.

The head of Australia's Commonwealth Games Association, Perry Crosswhite, was upbeat as well, saying: "I am very pleased with the village as of now."

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