“Your boys have been up to a lot of mischief, eh?” The Australian Border Force officer at the boarding gate of Singapore’s Changi airport tries to sound courteous. But his smile and wink barely disguise his taunt, and a sporting nation’s relief.
Indian athletes have come to the rescue of a country scarred by the recent images of their bawling cricketers. Syringe-gate seems to have taken the heat away from sandpaper-gate, and eased the trauma of this proud sporting nation.
Until Monday, every Indian athlete entering the Games Village was first being escorted to the dope control room. At the airport, the border force officers have been asking every travelling journalist to “step aside” for biometric scans and background checks.
After the initial hysteria, the debate seems to be gradually shifting to whether the country overreacted to the actions of Smith & Co., and syringe-gate is dominating the local news cycle. On Monday, one sports network ran an hour-long programme rich with anecdotes about how ball-tampering has been common since Don Bradman’s days. Even the ‘letters to the editor’ section of The Australian, a leading daily, focused on how the “cricketers have been dealt manifest injustice”.
Not that the Commonwealth Games have been reduced to controversy. In fact, Australia wants to portray the CWG as a kind of travelogue — Gold Coast’s stupendous beaches, the stunning highrises on its front, the vivid blue water, prolific greenery, and savage humour. And to show that their game is still fair play, the organisers have turned to one of the nicest men in Olympic sport, particularly hockey.
Mark Knowles, a modern hockey great, was expected to be just another face in Australia’s 474-member contingent at Wednesday’s opening ceremony. However, he was named the flag-bearer, picked over the public’s favourite — track star Sally Pearson.
It was a surprising decision since hockey isn’t quite mainstream here. But Knowles, as the locals say, is an embodiment of everything that Australians cherish in their sportsmen. “His is a story of love not money, of sincerity rather than sledging, of hard yakka not hubris,” the Gold Coast Bulletin noted, taking an obvious dig at the cricketers.
The choice has proved to be a masterstroke as Australia tries to repair its sporting reputation. India, meanwhile, once again finds itself in the dock on the eve of yet another Commonwealth Games.
In 1990, Indian weightlifter Subrata Paul became the first athlete to test positive for performance enhancing drugs at the Commonwealth Games. Twelve years ago in Melbourne, an official was accused of misbehavior. While 2010 does not need any reminding, officials were again accused of misbehaving with hotel staff and drunk driving at Glasgow four years ago.
Last week, a group of Indians, who claimed to be journalists travelling to cover the Commonwealth Games, were detained at the Brisbane Airport for false documentation.
Days later, the Indian boxers found themselves involved in a ‘syringe-gate’ after needles disposed in a crushed plastic bottle were found outside a senior pugilist’s room at the Games Village. While they were cleared of doping charges, the Indians were found guilty of violating the Games’ no-needle policy.