As players formed a scrum around the rugby ball, the stands of the Delhi University North Campus grounds looked desolate. Their shouts tried to compensate for the noise of the missing crowd. On the first day of the Asian Rugby Sevens Invitational tournament, matches were played in an empty stadium, with many people unaware of the tournament.
“This is the first time we have played without spectators. It’s really disappointing,” said Nasser Hussain, India captain.
Pramod Khanna, president of the Indian Rugby Football Union, called it a “nightmare test event”. “According to Commonwealth norms, spectators cannot be allowed to sit in the same stands as athletes. And since the stands were not ready, the police thought there was no point allowing spectators,” he said.
Suresh Kalmadi, president of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, said, “Security is a big issue. But our sports protocol cannot include the harassment of players and people.”
However, Greg Davey, Rugby India development manager, was pleased with the facilities. “The venue is good, the grass is fine, though it needs a bit of depth. We’ll give it six months until the Games and it should be alright by then,” he said.
India will leave for New Zealand on April 20 for a four-week training stint with Gordon Tietjen, the All Blacks coach. “We’re hoping the boys will keep learning. Maybe they could even make a mark in the Delhi Games,” Davey said.
Kalmadi kept waiting
It was confusion at Gate No. 5 of the stadium when Suresh Kalmadi, the chief guest, was not allowed to enter. According to eyewitnesses, Kalmadi wasn’t recognised by the security guards. Despite repeated attempts to drive home the point that he was the chief guest, the guards refused to budge. The OC chairman had to wait for 10 minutes.
According to Ashar Khan, venue press manager, the chairman was the only person who was allowed to enter through the athletes’ gate. “But the driver took a wrong turn and took the media entry gate (No 5). After a certain point, even media personnel aren’t allowed with their vehicles. So, the cops had to ask him to stop,” he clarified.