Monday, October 25, 2010

Commonweath Games Delhi 2010

I have so much blogging to do and I am going to endeavor to catch up all our news over the next couple of weeks. This entry will be about our CWG (Commonwealth Games) experience in Delhi. As it happens I am sitting in the American Embassy while Sam is doing baseball training...incidentally the man at the table next to me has an uncanny resemblance to Jim Carey... anyway, on my way here I was an accomplice as Sam and his friend nicked a couple of CWG banners from light poles to keep as souvenirs. Sam has been wanting the rugby sevens banner for some time now and now he has it :)

I had been watching the lead up to the CWG for nearly two years and it was probably only in the last 3 months that I really started to notice changes in Delhi. The plan was that all the venues would be completed in March before the intense heat of summer and the following monsoon rains... but of course that was not the case and as luck would have it this year was the biggest monsoon in 15 years. You would not believe the amount of water. It rained several times everyday for 2 months without fail. The accumulation of water on the roads was unbelievable. We frequently found ourselves driving or even wading through a flowing stream of water with unknown garbage wrapping itself around our ankles.

As we live literally a few hundred metres as the crow flies to the CWG stadium our neighborhood was eagerly awaiting the opening of our local metro station which would be one of the main stops for access to the stadium. The station itself is underground and less than a week before the games began the ground surface was broken to reveal the location of the station and in true Indian fashion the metro line opened the day before the opening ceremony. You have never seen so many workmen on one worksite working 24/7. I happened to catch the metro the morning of the opening ceremony and the security was unbelievable. There was an armed army or police man literally every 5 metres in and outside the station.

The last two weeks before the games is when Delhi changed the most... Cows and people where displaced from median strips where new garden beds were planted. All the gutters were repainted, beggars at street corners mysteriously disappeared and large CWG themed billboard panels were erected to hide unsightly drains and slums. Ironically one of the slums I often drive by is established on a small but steep mound which is unusual in flat Delhi. The boarding wrapped around the perimeter of the slum did nothing to hide what was clearly visible on that hill.

On the night of the opening ceremony we headed around to our neighbors Jay and Ashwinee's house for an opening ceremony party. There were about 30 of us there including 3 of my family members from Australia. From Jay and Ashwinee's roof we had a perfect view across the freeway to the stadium. From our fab vantage point we enjoyed the fireworks display put on by an Australian pyrotechnics company in true sydney new years eve style.

I had already booked tickets to a few events in the lead up to the games but once the games started we ended up attending some event or another almost everyday. So on the morning of the first day we made a decision to go to the afternoon swimming session and watch the beginning of the Australian gold rush.
Even though we live about 20 minutes from the swimming stadium it was a wise decision to leave 2 hours early and even then we still missed the first race of the session.... Firstly because the driver of the shuttle bus from the metro to the stadium had no idea where he was going and managed to get lost and secondly because of the over the top security. It took nearly an hour in a queue for Leigh and I to get to the womens security check where we found thousands of rupees in coins and hundreds of pens littering the floor... who new you weren't allowed pens and coins into games venues. From the second day organisers had arranged red cross money boxes to collect all the banned coins.
The atmosphere at the swimming was great even though the venue was only half full. We saw Australia win gold in some great events including the mens relay. On the way out we were interviewed by a channel nine journo... there was slim pickings as far as Australian supporters at most events, thus we managed to score lots of flag waving cheering like idiots TV time.

For our next games excursion Hunter and I went with Jay and Ashwinee to the gymnastics. We had booked our tickets way in advance opting for premium front row seats. The rest of the stadium was largely empty except for the cheap seats up the back. That day we saw the Australian mens team win bronze and the womens win gold.
Heading home was more public transport chaos.... As the shuttle buses pulled up to ferry people back to the metro station the local people swarmed onto the still moving buses leaving all the foreigners bewildered. There was no order and people literally had to force their way onto the bus. I saw an English lady with three little girls trying to fight there way onto the bus and I have no doubt it was a frightening experience for them. The funny thing is once you manage to push and fight your way onto the bus the locals suddenly become very courteous and offer the foreigners their seats... ahhh India
While I am at it I am going to add one more criticism about the games and that is about the food and merchandising. Firstly the merchandising... there was none... and the food basically consisted of a chicken burger, a veg burger, a chocolate brownie and soft-drinks. Everything else on the menu was perpetually unavailable. Where were the chips, chocolate and ice cream? Seriously, the one and only food provider missed out on a lot of revenue for lack of choice... there was only so many of those hideous burgers I could stomach. While I am at it what happened to all the ice cream carts at India gate? Normally every night there are literally a hundred ice cream whalla's lining the road adjacent to the park with lots of families enjoying the park and the lights of India gate. Where did this wonderful Delhi institution go??? Ok, I am getting off my soap box now.

Sam went with friends to watch Australia beat India in the hockey semis and Ray and Sam went to the tennis finals to watch India smash Australia in the mens finals. It was so great to see the patriotism and support of the Indians for all their athletes even at events like the gymnastics and swimming where they were not even close to a medal.

We went to a second afternoon of the swimming where we saw Geoff Huegil win his gold and a bunch of other gold medals in a variety of events. By the second last day of the swimming the stadiums was close to full. As we had front row seats, two Australian flags and Ray a lairy green and gold shirt we got lots of airtime and heaps of friends from Australia and the UK saw us.

The highlight of our games experience would be organising tickets for 28 of the ashram kids and a few staff to the athletics. When I walked to the stadium that morning to buy the tickets the girl at the counter was most confused when I said I wanted 28 tickets... she asked if I meant two and then 8 and eight, once I confirmed I wanted 28 she had to check with her supervisor that I was allowed to purchase that many.
Incidentally, on my walk home I happened to pass a compound with a bunch of Australians working in the scorching heat mixing gunpowder and whatever else to make the fireworks for the closing ceremony.
So that afternoon with tickets in hand Sam and I caught the metro to north Delhi to meet everyone so that they could travel by metro for free. The kids were so excited and experienced so many new things such as; riding the metro, going to a huge stadium and even riding an escalator for the first time. It was a different world for them and they had such a great time. We were lucky enough to see India win gold, silver and bronze in the womens discus. We of course had our Australian flag with us and everyone helped us cheer on the aussie chick who one the 100 metres hurdles and Steve Hooker in the pole vault. On Steve Hookers victory lap Ray managed to yell over the crowd and get his attention which all the kids thought was cool.

Our final day of spectating was at the rugby sevens. In the lead up to the games I had been deliberately quiet on the fact that rugby sevens was a CWG event. But as we had friends arriving on the second last day of the games who wanted to take the opportunity to see the games rugby sevens was the only event of any interest. It was a good thing we bought our tickets early as by this stage a lot of events were sold out. I must admit as much as I am not a fan of Rugby it truly was a great day. We met up with about 20 other expat friends who all were Australians for the day. As our group made up the largest Australian contingent in the crowd we were on TV and the big screen often. Dav and Jeni received several texts from friends in Australia and family in the UK who had seen them enjoying their first day in India. At one point we had our very own channel 10 camera man in the crowd with us, filming us cheering like mad people as Australia versed New Zealand in the gold medal match. I have to say it was a gripping match as the first half of the match was so close, but Australia could not hang onto their lead in the second half.

We finished the games as it started... On Jay and Ashwinee's roof this time with a different group of Aussie visitors and the fireworks were equally as spectacular as the opening.

Congratulations Delhi on a wonderful games... but I don't think you are ready to host the 2020 olympics ;)