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?Friendly Games?: We are at your service, mate!

"Are you here for the Commonwealth Games?" Someone shouted from a cab. "Yeah," I said. "Good luck, mate!" he yelled back as the cab zipped past the light.

india Updated: Mar 16, 2006 19:02 IST

"Are you here for the Commonwealth Games?" Someone shouted from a cab. "Yeah," I said. "Good luck, mate!" he yelled back as the cab zipped past the light. Nothing extraordinary, but then there's this genial feeling floating through the air as numerous clocks and electronic devices across the city corners and streets keep ticking towards the D-day.

As for the headcount, it's simple: Seventy-one nations, 4,500 athletes and 15 disciplines. That's the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games and that's why thousands of people from across the Commonwealth countries have cut across oceans, to witness another spectacle in the Southern hemisphere. Sydney 2000 is still fresh in their minds.

Even though the Melbourne organisers are under attack from cynics, deriding the whole gamut as nothing more than a money-wasting venture, the Melbournians, are unflustered. For them it's another season of sporting extravaganza. So what if their sporting icon Ian Thorpe has withdrawn, or the ever-untiring Britisher Paula Radcliffe is staying away, the whole city is abuzz.

It's come alive and a casual walk through the streets only reminds one of the 'Friendly Games' and, of course, the joie de vivre of the city.

"I've taken three weeks off from office," said Richard, one of the volunteers, a Revenue official, who drove us to the hotel. The much-vaunted volunteer system, one of the success stories of the Sydney Games, is in place. More than 15,000 volunteers have already enlisted for the Games.

"We are more than happy to do something," said Richard, with a smile.

From the customs to the help desk at the Tullamarine airport, the volunteers seemed to be the most helpful people on the planet. "Be comfortable, mate … we are here to help you," was the oft-repeated line.

In short, Melbourne is ready even thought the Friday dress rehearsal was out of bounds for the media. In a bid to reassure everyone, Prime Minster John Howard said, "It's (Games) not a threat to National security."

From the Indian perspective, lifters and boxers moved into the Games village in the wee hours of Saturday and had to skip their morning practice. "We were tired," was what lifting coach Hansa Sharma had to say. She, however, went for venue inspection in the morning.

Before boarding the flight in New Delhi, the boxing and weightlifting teams were in high spirits. Though the lifting team sidestepped questions on doping, but when pressed hard on the medal prospects, Kunjarani Devi said: "Hum log medal jeetne ke liye hi ja rahe hai."

The hockey, badminton and table tennis teams are already here. One only hopes for a good, clean performance from them.

No doping, please!

First Published: Mar 16, 2006 19:02 IST