Sports have always occupied a place in the forefront of my imagination. As a youth, baseball was my singular fascination. When I got in trouble, timeout never worked, but threats to miss baseball practice were almost a guarantee I would behave myself. Now that I’m older, I still love sports. In college I played rugby on the club team, and after college I joined the office softball team and the running club. Now that I’m in India, I’m still able to play and watch sports, and those experiences have been some of my most memorable from the last several months.
In Delhi, I joined a pick-up basketball game at the local sports center in my neighborhood. Every Tuesday evening we played at the Siri Fort athletic facility, which was originally built for the use of athletes competing in the Asian Games hosted by New Delhi years ago. Siri Fort now serves as one of the largest recreational clubs in New Delhi. We usually played half court pickup basketball until the floodlights turn off at 9:00. Right from the beginning I had to alter my game to fit in. Players at Siri Fort like to call fouls, which is something I’m not used to in pick-up basketball. Back home, pick-up is often governed by “street ball” rules. Which means if you get fouled, you just foul back on the next play. It all sorts itself out, and play remains continuous. This game did not follow that understanding and had a start stop flow more like officiated basketball. I learned to play incredibly careful defense, or just not to play defense at all, which fit better with the local style.
Aside from playing sports, I was also able to watch live sporting events. In the fall I got a chance to attend a soccer match of the Delhi Dynamo. This was actually a quarterfinals match against FC Goa in the ISL, the Hero Indian Super League. Later in the winter, I got a chance to attend a hockey match of the Delhi Waveriders. This was a match against the Kalinga Lancers that Delhi won handily. It was also a thrilling experience because I was almost killed just trying to get into the stadium. Even though I had already purchased a ticket, I was not allowed in the stadium along with almost a hundred other fans. The authorities had apparently locked the doors since the stadium had already reached capacity. Within ten minutes, the doors to the stadium were forcibly knocked down by a stampede of hockey fans, and I was being washed into the stadium along with the flow of humans. As I was swept through the doors, I tripped over a knocked down metal detector and fell inside of it. Several others fell on top of me as well, and it wasn’t until after they had gotten up that I was able to get up myself. I then scampered out of the main concourse luckily only having scraped and bruised both of my shins. A couple months later, in the spring, I went to a kabaddi match of Dabangg Delhi. This was fun because I got to spend almost the entire match along with my friend, and fellow AIF Clinton Fellow, Amy, trying to figure out the rules. Finally, near the end of spring I got to see the grandaddy of all Indian sporting events, a cricket match. The match was a semi-final of the T20 Cricket World Cup between England and New Zealand. All of these events were unique in their own right and differed hugely from sports in the United States. At none of these games was beer served, and food was not allowed into the stands. Spectators wanting to eat during the game would have to stand in the concourse and finish their food and drinks before returning to their seats. Fans got around these inconveniences by heavily pre-gaming the events or smuggling packs of chips under their shirts.
The culmination of all my sporting experiences this year came in the form of the Auroville Hat Tournament. Every year Auroville, a small utopian colony outside of Pondicherry, hosts a frisbee tournament called a “hat” in which a couple hundred frisbee players show up and put their names into a hat. The tournament organizers then pull names and randomly assign teams. These teams are largely made up of people who may never have played together before, and may never have even met each other before. This fosters a strong sense of sportsmanship between teams since there’s less on the line for each team, and everyone is playing for the love of the game. I was lucky enough to be invited to the tournament by a fellow AIF Clinton Fellow, Udayan, who is also a Frisbee player on the Indian national team. My team ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs, which was good because I was sunburned and exhausted.
All pictures are taken from my Instagram @owenjollie