New Delhi is not your average sports community. It’s not even close.
The capital of the second most populous nation on the face of the Earth has endured a bum rap in the last week or so. Critics have targeted the warts while failing to plug into the vibe of the Commonwealth Games host city.
For those who follow traditional North American-style sport it’s like being on another planet.
From the mayhem of “Old Delhi,” to the myriad three-wheeled taxis called “Tuk Tuks” careening around every street corner, there is constant movement.
There are more people in one place than you can possibly imagine.
Eight-year-old street hawkers speak perfect English and peddle postcards at the same time as they guide you through a maze of vehicles that threaten to run you down as you cross the road.
It’s not uncommon to encounter an elephant in the business district of Delhi, or a wandering cow, or thousands of dogs peacefully sleeping under police cars in the searing hot afternoons.
There is grit and grime, but most striking of all is the energy of Delhi.
Against this remarkable backdrop the Commonwealth Games venues get little attention while the so-called “uninhabitable” housing for athletes draws ire from afar.
Canadian flag-bearer and field hockey captain Ken Pereira, a two-time Olympian of Indian parentage, isn’t fazed by New Delhi.
“My mother will be in the stands when I play,” Pereira said proudly on the steps of the gleaming hockey venue.
“I was always sure these people could pull it off and they will. So far everything’s been perfect.”
Pereira’s sentiments are tempered by his veteran teammate, Rob Short of Tsawwassen, B.C. But he, too, loves what he’s seen in India so far.
“Delhi for sure is not Europe or North America, it’s a different place,” Short said.
“But that’s what sport is all about. It’s meant to test us, to challenge us. We have to embrace that.”
And the athletes will.
It turns out they haven’t done the complaining.
They’ve been too busy testing out the new aquatics centre or indoor cycling track, neither of which is matched in Canada.
India may not be what we’re used to in our sanitized perception of how sport should be played.
New Delhi is vastly different, but capable of being an inspirational setting nonetheless.
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