The Telegraph
Monday , October 11 , 2010
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Sunday surfeit, led by Sonia
- First big turnout and loud cheers at games
Rahul by her side, Sonia rises to her feet to cheer the Indian hockey team during the match against Pakistan on Sunday. India beat Pakistan 7-4. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi, Oct. 10: The Commonwealth Games got its first big turnout today, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi leading the charge of the fan brigade to put a smile on the faces of organisers complaining about the capital refusing to see beyond cricket.

India’s 7-4 defeat of arch-rivals Pakistan in hockey may have been the story of Day 8 of the Games but it was the sight of spectators lining up to enter the various venues that made for the defining picture.

At the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, an unusually animated Sonia in salwar-kameez and son Rahul in orange kurta sat among the sell-out crowd and cheered every move by the home team.

The security was strong, as usual, but unobtrusive. Three Special Protection Group personnel and plainclothes police watched over mother and son and a couple of their guests from a distance.

Manish Dikshit, seated a few rows away along with his 16-year-old nephew Dhruv, said he was “taken aback” by the presence of Sonia and Rahul in the stands.

“Only those in the rows close to where they were seated noticed them at first. The rest did not have a clue that they were around. But once word spread, spectators around us were looking more at mother and son cheering the team loudly than following the action on the field,” Manish said.

Several spectators said Sonia seemed more excited about the Indian victory than Rahul, standing up every few minutes to cheer and clap.

For Manish, the game brought back memories of another Sunday at the same stadium 28 years ago.

“I was inconsolable that day. Pakistan had just thrashed India 7-1 (in the 1982 Asiad final) and I promised never to watch an India-Pakistan hockey match again. I am happy I did today,” he said.

With India doing well in boxing, wrestling, tennis and hockey, similar sentiments surged in the stands at the venues where these events are being held.

Apart from the hockey stadium, the Dr S.P. Mukherjee swimming complex, the Talkatora indoor boxing and Indira Gandhi wrestling arenas, and the R.K. Khanna tennis stadium attracted large crowds.

Those planning to watch the long-distance cycling event were, however, disappointed as overzealous security officials prevented them from going anywhere near the barricaded 13.7km route.

“We know that people feel deprived but we cannot compromise on security,” Rajan Bhagat, a spokesman for Delhi police, said.

Rakesh Sharma, who spent the day visiting a couple of venues along with his wife and children, said the security was proving a killjoy.

“My children wanted to watch cycling but the cops did not allow us even a glimpse. The ticketing system isn’t good either,” he said.

A Games official said that the Delhi police did not want the larger arenas like Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium to be filled to capacity, apart from at the opening and closing ceremonies, because of security concerns.

“They have worked out a ratio of spectators to security personnel at each stadium. While the police can handle packed spectator stands at the smaller stadiums, they have reservations about a big arena like the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium that can seat 60,000,” he said.

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