London, July 26: Bengal shooter Joydeep Karmakar and I are having a chat at a party hosted by the Mittal Champions Trust when I ask about the accommodation and the food in London.
Calcutta boy Joydeep, a 50m rifle shooter, tells me that “six people have to share two bathrooms”.
His room is “neat and adequate enough”, he says, but the standard of accommodation is not as good as it was in Delhi during the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
“With two bathrooms for six, it’s okay when we are out training but not enough when we are all in,” says Joydeep.
But he does not want to come across as a whinger.
“The training facilities are very good,” he acknowledges.
What about the food?
“Not up to the mark,” he responds promptly.
Isn’t Indian food available?
“That is the worst,” Joydeep grimaces. “I am forced to live on McDonald’s.”
He makes it clear he was not personally in Delhi but “my friends who were have been telling me that the Indian hospitality there was lavish”.
Maybe it’s too early to say “Come back Suresh Kalmadi, all is forgiven,” but it does seem that, at least on accommodation and food, Delhi was a couple of laps ahead of London.
Lakshmi’s gold hunt
With 204 countries competing in the Olympics, there are scores of parties going on in London. One of the more elegant was hosted by steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, who has set up an organisation called the Mittal Champions Trust.
Since I am in serious training to cover the Olympics, I chose chilled water over chilled champagne but Mittal had picked the perfect spot for his party on a perfect summer’s evening — outside the Serpentine art gallery in the middle of Kensington Park.
The idea of the trust is to identify the most promising athletes and give them the best equipment and coaching Mittal’s money can buy.
For example, discus thrower Seema Antil tells me she received the best available foreign coaching in California. And no, she will not be attending the opening ceremony on July 27 — “they make you stand around for hours and this could affect my performance”.
Out of the 81 members of the Indian Olympic team in London, 15, including Beijing gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, are supported by the trust.
Other than Mahesh Bhupathi, the tennis player who acts as a facilitator and trustee for the Mittal Trust, I recognise no one.
A veteran journalist says: “If they were cricketers, you would know who they were. What is lacking in India is anger that we have won only one individual gold medal in Olympic history.”
Put like that, it does sound shocking. But, to be fair, it is this sense of humiliation that has persuaded Lakshmi Mittal to set up the trust.
His son-in-law, Amit Bhatia, speaks for the family when he addresses the guests.
After India’s pathetic performance in Athens 2004, “my father-in-law said, ‘What do we do? We need to do something, we need to change this. We need to pioneer an initiative that can help India at the Olympic Games.”
The trust is providing support in five disciplines: archery, athletics, boxing, shooting and wrestling.The only other speaker is Bhupathi, who thanks Lakshmi Mittal.
“We hope to get five medals,” I am told privately by Manisha Malhotra, the trust’s Mumbai-based CEO.
Locog stands for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games — and in the opinion of the black community, it has proved to be a racist outfit.
This is because it simply would not give accreditation to The Voice, Britain’s main black newspaper, which naturally wanted to focus on black sporting success — even the British team has a high proportion of black stars.
The weekly’s sports editor, Rodney Hinds, called the decision, backed by the British Olympic Association, “outrageous”.
In the end, after a long campaign by black politicians and community leaders, the media accreditation committee was forced to give a single press ticket to The Voice.
This has been a disgraceful episode considering Britain beat France in 2005 in Singapore to be awarded the 2012 Games by parading its “diversity” and its black athletes.
Lakshmi Mittal’s team wants to invite Indian journalists resident in the UK onto his ArcelorMittal Orbit but Locog won’t allow them onto the Olympic Park site where the Anish Kapoor-designed sculpture stands.
Is Locog trying to sabotage Mittal?
Amitabh Bachchan’s links with London 2012 may be a little tenuous but in a last-second PR sprint, he has managed to beat SRK by doing a photo “op” with the Olympic torch in Southwark in south London. Bollywood A-listers have a way of managing these things but Karan Johar has also wangled a ticket to the Danny Boyle-orchestrated opening extravaganza tomorrow.
The Telegraph caught up with Bachchan in Bellenden Road, Peckham, today. Mothers came with children in prams; local crowds gathered; and traffic came to a stop.
The attraction was the torch rather than the actor, for the joys of watching Sholay or Deewar had escaped the assembled.
Few had heard of him. He was also 15 minutes late. “He’s allowed to be,” said at least one well-briefed English photographer. “He is the biggest star in Bollywood and Bollywood is bigger than Hollywood.”