Ajay Masand & Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Kolkata
Baldev Singh Kalsi schedules his life around India’s hockey games. Om Mundra has taken his obsession a step further; he needs a ringside view of all major sporting events. Both would have been in Tokyo for the Summer Olympics, travelling fans being part of quadrennial history. Till Covid-19 sucker-punched the world.
Mundra, his wife Premlata and their friends; Kalsi and Raja Namdhari, co-travellers in this journey, and Rahul Nagpal are among sports fiends who, having spent a small fortune on surge-priced air tickets, sky-rocketing accommodation, hours in ferreting out the best deal and in online queues for tickets, are grappling with uncertainty after the Games were deferred to 2021.
Kalsi is a 66-year-old retired British Airways engineer who lives in Southall, London. He has been travelling to hockey tournaments — 12 Champions Trophy and 12 World Cups including the 1975 edition which India won — before it became an affordable fad. He has been to every Summer Olympics since 1972 in Munich.
For Tokyo, Kalsi, a die-hard fan of Indian hockey, managed to get his hands on two tickets for the final of the hockey event, which is a feat in itself.
“I wasn’t optimistic at all as I had tried to get tickets for the quarter-finals and semi-finals and failed,” says Kalsi. “Then I tried for the final as well and out of 5000 applications on that particular day, I got lucky that my name was shortlisted.” Today, he is unsure of whether those tickets will be valid for 2021 as he hasn’t received them yet. “Until I have them in hand, I cannot say I have tickets to the final,” says Kalsi.
Kalsi is one of the luckier ones. The two tickets for a prime event cost him 300 pounds, but as a former employee of British Airways, he doesn’t have to worry about flight tickets. Namdhari, a cousin of former India captain Sardar Singh, does. Namdhari is a 40-year-old resident of New Delhi and has created a travelling group called ‘One Team One Dream’, of which Kalsi and several others are members.
Namdhari and 14 other from the group had booked a large apartment in Tokyo paying an advance of Rs 1.5 lakh. All of them had booked their return flight tickets for Tokyo as well. “I have been assured that all our flight tickets and the room in Tokyo can be used in 2021 so I am counting on that,” says Namdhari.
Nagpal, a 59-year-old doctor from New Delhi doesn’t have the same assurance. Nagpal’s son had booked them tickets for the swimming events worth Rs 2.5 lakh. The senior Nagpal’s return flight tickets alone cost Rs 90,000. “Air India is neither reimbursing the amount and nor are they willing to extend the tickets to 2021,” says Nagpal.
Nagpal’s son believes the money has gone down the drain. “We are also not sure whether the Games will happen in August 2021. And even if it does, it may not be a suitable time for us to go. For now, getting the money reimbursed is our only option,” says Nagpal, who has written to the Tokyo Games Organising Committee on the matter.
Mundra doesn’t want his money back. The 70-year-old from Nagpur has attended every Summer Olympics, football and cricket World Cups since 1999 — either as volunteer or fan — and is hopeful of going to Australia for the World T20 later this year. (Of course, he has bought tickets for India’s games, the semi-finals and final, return tickets from Australia and booked internal flights)
If the Olympics happen next year, he will make time for it. He has a massive haul of tickets – in athletics, swimming, wrestling, boxing (to watch Mary Kom specifically), tennis, badminton, one football game and three hockey matches that feature the Indian team and the men’s basketball final. For all those tickets, Mundra and his group paid around Rs 1 lakh per head.
If his friends back out, he will have to recalibrate plans, says Mundra, adding that he has still not been told whether his flight tickets can be rescheduled and lodgings re-booked after new dates are announced.
“I read a report the other day that the Olympics might not even be held in 2021 and that sort of depressed me,” says Mundra, who describes himself as a positive person. Mundra has even been to Winter Olympics as a volunteer. “I am really interested in seeing the world through sports. During these events, you get to interact with the best of humankind — happy people of all cultures and races. When you’re with them, the world, with all its problems, doesn’t seem a terrible place after all.”
That, after all, is the promise of sports; now more important than ever.
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