India’s largest ever Olympic contingent began arriving early in Rio de Janeiro to acclimatize and prepare for the intense competition that awaits them from 5 August onwards, the day of the Opening ceremony. India has been growing in participant size and confidence, albeit slowly, at the Olympic stage and this year the team is brimming with confidence to take on the best in sport that the world has to offer.
Team faces local hurdles
The Indian Chef de Mission, Rakesh Gupta, highlighted some of the hurdles that the Indian contingent faced on arrival. The first was language. Being a mainly Portuguese speaking nation, finding people fluent in English has been a challenge.
The organizers have recruited an army of part-time volunteers drawn from school and college-going students who can speak English, but most of them will be available only from first of August, once the schools and colleges are shut for the Olympics. Till then, the Indian contingent have been facing problems in getting around the massive Games village and also accessing various venues, in order to familiarize themselves with the route and facilities. Lack of adequate English-speaking guides has been a hindrance. Things are expected to improve once the army of volunteers take up their respective roles from the 1st August onwards.
Getting around from one venue to another has also not been smooth thus far, as most bus drivers themselves did not seem too familiar with the routes. And in the absence of fluent English, the Indian athletes were facing some trouble communicating and seeking directions.
Food – the good news
Rakesh Gupta has been pursuing the Rio Olympic Committee for the last one month to ensure Indian food is made available to the Indian contingent on arrival. The good news is that the massive dining facility has been providing vegetarian ‘desi’ meals, much to the delight of Indian athletes, who were apprehensive of having to adjust to unfamiliar international cuisine.
Early arrival helps
It must be remembered that the Indian athletes have been arriving in batches from different parts of the world, as some of them have been training in different countries. The good part is that the Indian contingent has arrived early and will get adequate time to adjust to the weather and settle into the Games Village while having adequate time to explore the vast array of facilities there. According to Rakesh Gupta, early arrival help athletes and players of the Indian contingent to bond among themselves, as they have mostly restricted themselves to their respective team mates in the run up to Rio.
The early arrival at the games village will give inter-disciplinary interaction a boost. The official Welcome Ceremony at the village will be held today, 1 August, which will be headed by Brazilian Basketball Star and Mayor of the Games Village, Janeth Arcain. The Indian Archery team will be the first to have a go at the medals race as they begin competition on the 5th of August, the same as the Opening Ceremony.
However, for most of the other Indian athletes, they will get a lot more time as events begin at later dates. After Archery, the Indian boxers, weightlifters, shooters and hockey players will begin their respective campaigns starting 6 August.
Game Ambassadors all set to cheer Indian athletes
India’s Rio Games Brand Ambassador and popular Bollywood film actor, Salman Khan, is all set to arrive in Rio to cheer up the Indian contingent. Joining him will be Indian cricket superstar and now Rajya Sabha MP, Sachin Tendulkar, who arrives in Rio on 2 August. Their presence will surely boost the morale of the Indian athletes and will also be keenly followed back home in India.
The Rio Games Village
The picturesque $1.5 billion Olympic and Paralympic Games Village is virtually a mini township located at Barra in Rio. The village includes 31, 17-storied apartment buildings and a total of 3,604 apartments, that will be home to 17,000 athletes and team officials. The complex will house 6,000 athletes and officials during the Paralympic Games, scheduled to be held in Rio from 7-18 September, 2016. This will be home-away-from-home, for all athletes during the entire duration of the games. The village is a self-contained mini-township with convenience stores, bank, post office, laundry, florist, hair salons, medical facilities and a 1800 sq mt or 19,300 sq ft gym.
The village also houses 7 swimming pools, tennis courts and football pitches. It also boasts of Virtual Reality Center and Village Plaza that will certainly attract a lot of attention from all sportspersons .
Olympic Village Dining Hall takes the spotlight
The mammoth Dining Hall at the village is designed to operate on 24/7 basis and will offer 60,000 meals per day. The 21,700 sq mt or 2.33 lakh sq ft facility, which can easily accommodate 5 Jumbo jets, can seat and feed 6,806 persons simultaneously. The kitchen will have a team of chefs preparing cuisines from around the world to cater to every palate. The Indian contingent is very happy to be served Dal and vegetarian dishes like aloo-gobhi.
But controversy remains
The Rio Games Committee has come under heavy criticism for the facilities not having been completed in time. Several complaints have already been made by various contingents regarding the quality and finish at the games village. The Australian contingent that was to move into the village on 27th of July had refused to move in until blocked toilets, exposed wiring and leaking pipes were fixed.
The New Zealand squad that arrived at the village too were disappointed at the unfinished work, as was the Swedish football squad that refused to stay at the games, on arrival. The Rio Games spokesperson, Mario Andrada, had assured that over 630 persons had been deployed to work round the clock to fix all niggling maintenance problems. Barring Beijing, almost all Olympic game venues have suffered similar timeline overlap and last minute maintenance issues with village facilities.
India, too, had its share of last minute touching up that carried on as international athletes began arriving at the Commonwealth Games Village in New Delhi in 2010.
But the Olympic Spirit soars above all
Once the Games open, all issues fall into the background as the spirit of the Olympic Games take over. Rio has tried to put its best foot forward in an otherwise tough recessionary period, and therefore, it’s incumbent upon all participants and officials to join the games in the spirit of the games. The next 21 days are going to be adrenaline-pumping excitement, with enough to offer for all sporting tastes. May the best person win!