10 years after the Sydney Olympics came an opportunity for me to get a taste of the atmosphere during a live event. Having supported the initial development of the Sydney Olympics, Kumarbhai and Avis were entitled to priority bookings at a stadium event at the Olympic Park for life. Avis suggested we visit the Park during a Charity Shield match hosting 2 premier Rugby League sides that Saturday. It would offer an experience of the venue during a live event that was closest to the unique experience they had enjoyed 10 years earlier. Today offered that opportunity.
We left much earlier as we wanted to meet CarJacker (aka Dick Pound) who lives close to Sydney Olympic Park. I had spent limited time with him; this was an opportune moment to catch up and also allowed me to help him select the latest addition to his kitchen - a microwave. We met at the the mall adjacent to his apartment and walked around the ovens on offer. We came close to consensus about an ideal oven but he was reluctant to committ himself to a final, explaining that every other item he had acquired for his place was after intense research and study; he simply had not done that for the oven. I recognised that sentiment very well - it's a family thing!
Whilst at the mall, CarJacker went hunting for a card for a 21st bash he was attending for a friend at the Opera House that evening while I continued my search for a spare battery for my camera. He returned with success; I deduced that it probably was not worth my time - a new camera might prove better investment if the shortcoming proved critical. I was willing to wait till I returned to London as I would have the camera for longer to know of future needs that way.
On returning to the apartment, CarJacker started getting ready for his bash; Avis played mumsy attending to a bachelor pad while I played with the camera from that balcony. Carjacker was taking a bus to town (which he later reported took just 20 minutes) while Avis and I made the short ride to the Park. In common with a lot of similar venues all over the world, parking close enough to the venue without taking out a mortgage for the astronomical parking charges is a chore. We got lucky with a meter just a few minutes walk from Olympic Boulevard for just a few dollars.
Avis mentioned that as volunteers during the Olympics, they had their names on poles just outside the stadium, and also, as investors, they had their names on paving bricks too. The poles were easy to find; the bricks not as easy. It had been eons since Avis had seen them and she had forgotten exactly where they were. Over the years, many changes in the Park only helped to disorient her on their exact location. And none of the staff that we asked knew what the bricks were. We circled around the Park in our quest for quite a while. Good for me though; it was a fine way to see all parts of the venue.
The names on the poles in Sydney are clearly marked and seem to have withstood the test of time. The bricks, which we did find eventually (a short walk from the poles) were similar to the more famous celebrity slabs in Hollywood. Except they seemed less indelible. In just 10 years, some names had begun to fade away through erosion; the bricks were sited in a less tended part that was likely to attract growth of weeds, etc. And unlike other areas of the Park, the zone was not marked or signposted anywhere. Unless nameholders visited frequently to tend their bricks, I doubt if names would remain visible for another 10 years. I mused how London would deal with the same aspect for volunteers to ensure they remain part of the legacy that gets left behind after 2012.
Thinking about the principle of funding, Sydney appears to have found a good formula by incentivizing residents to invest in the Games using a Public-Private Investment route in part. Avis explained that Kumarbhai's insistence at the time to invest a relatively large sum was a major concern. However, after 10 years they have enjoyed many such events at the stadium as VIP guests that they otherwise would simply not have attended and agrees that it was a wise choice. Food for thought if your place ever becomes a host city for an event as big as the Olympics!
One other activity that Chesedrummer had highly recommended at the Park was to try a Gozleme at the Turkish food stall. The video clip - titled Sydney Olympic Park, covering the walk through the outside of the stadium - does far better justice to what a Gozleme is than I could in a million words. Suffice to say that it was an excellent suggestion and made for a delicious snack. Try it with a filling of your own making. The match had already been ongoing for more than half an hour - it was a good time to enter the stadium after a full stomach. It so happened that we needed that sustenance - our entry gate involved a full walk practically round the whole stadium. We later realised we were only one gate away from the entry if we had walked in the other direction. But hey, the letter K comes after A, doesn't it?
Yes, I was looking forward to actually watching the match. But only as an observer more interested in savouring the atmosphere of the venue rather than the game itself. There's a lot to be said about the strong values, discipline and camaraderie associated with sports like rugby but it is not a game I understand at all. The sight of men running, and sometimes kicking a ball, forward yet only passing it behind, interspersed with a few of them occasionally getting into a scrum (which I see only as some kind of a male orgy in public) usually has me in equal portions of confusion and bemusement. I remember as a kid in Nairobi when a Scotch teacher first arrived, keen to introduce Rugby in the school. This was to a class more used to field sports like football, hockey and cricket. It somehow never caught on, and now, as an adult, I have never quite understood the reason why rugby, especially when compared to football (soccer to my US readers) does not have a similar following. In terms of the values that it instills, rugby should be more widely championed. Football is the more attractive, and at its core, more demanding of raw skill, to rugby. But it also attracts more gamesmanship to rugby; the latter attracts clearer sportsmanship. Why so, I wonder?
Turning to the game itself, the match between The Rabbitohs and Dragons was a curtain raiser for the Rugby season. Dubbed the Charity Shield, it is designed to help local charities. 2010 signalled the 25th anniversary of the Charity Shield and as I discovered later, also marked the centenary of one the sides from humbler origins. The stadium itself, having undergone several name changes since the Olympics, is now ANZ Stadium. Once we had entered inside, it felt good to tread the red carpet that is laid on all VIP areas. The atmosphere inside was ... electric. It was good to see that supporters from both sides mingled with eachh other freely. None of the partisan "us vs them" atmosphere that is more common in similar games elsewhere, although I have limited experience of such events in recent years anyway. I was no wiser about the finer points of the game after my visit. We left before the end to avoid the rush, although then stopped to enjoy a coffee at Gloria Jeans across the stadium. We discovered that the match ended in a draw as we saw spectators starting to empty the stadium. Watch my clip on some highlights of the match itself on You Tube titled - Charity Shield Match ANZ Stadium.
My thanks to Spirit of the Land for use of Reanimation as the soundtrack for the first clip. This article is part of a series of my travelog in India and Australia at the beginning of this year. The series is tagged Intrepid Traveller; click the link to go back to earlier accounts.