Catching a flying tram to Melbourne 2006?

Well, we’re into the eleven days that shook the world, or at least the obscure fraction of it that calls itself the Commonwealth. (A strange name for an organisation presided over by someone whose wealth is tied to the fact that she’s not a commoner, but I’ve already been on about that enough this week.) Melbourne 2006 has kicked off with a celebration involving fireworks and flying trams, with the added bonus of Jana Pittman pulling out of the Queen’s Baton relay. So enough sniping from Sydneysiders – let’s allow our Southern neighbours to enjoy their moment in the spotlight until after the Games, when we can make the obvious inferior comparison with Sydney 2000.

But it’s time to ask the big question that really measures the level of interest in the nation’s de facto capital (sorry, I called a moratorium on gloating, didn’t I? I’ll remember next time). How many Sydneysiders are going down to watch?
Let me begin by confessing that I’m going to be in Melbourne for a couple of days next week, and will try to catch an event or two. Really, though, it was an accident. A month ago, I booked to go down because my brother’s got a show on down there. I, along with most of Melbourne probably, was going about our daily business, blissfully ignorant that the Games were even on. Sure, I knew we’d have to endure them at some point in the first half of the year, but there wasn’t exactly an avalanche of hype.

Booking online with Virgin Blue should have given me the first hint. Not because it was hard to get a ticket – on the contrary. They’d put on a heap of extra flights on in anticipation, and of course no-one from Sydney had booked them. So I could book any flight I wanted for the minimum price of around $80. I was stoked.
The penny only dropped when it came time to book accommodation. I used, the disorganised cheapskate’s friend, but noticed to my dismay that the prices doubled during the time we were down there. “Must be some big event on,” I said to myself. But then I realised it was only because of the Commonwealth Games. Whoops, sorry – I was upset at having to pay top dollar to stay in Melbourne.

To be fair, ticket sales are finally picking up. Why, they even had a queue yesterday! After releasing some more swimming tickets, which still haven’t sold out.

But I, however, am paying a high price for all this hubris. I assumed there’d be heaps of cheap $15 tickets during the Games itself, and that I could go and see the sport I most enjoyed during Sydney – the table tennis. Sitting in a stadium watching professionals play a sport I thought was confined to police boys’ clubs and disused garages was fantastic fun. The level of skill was amazing – they hit the ball so fast you could hardly see it, and regularly pulled off the kind of spectacular dives you’d be more likely to see at a soccer match.

Sure, most of the world ping-pong powers like China, Taiwan and Germany won’t be there this time. I wasn’t expecting much in Melbourne – just some people who might hit it over the net occasionally. So imagine my shock when I discovered that the event’s now actually sold out. I’m appalled. Who’s bought these tickets? Have any of you? I may even have to resort to eBay. Yes, that’s right; you heard me – to get tickets to the Commonwealth Games. The indignity.

Looking at the website, there are still lots of great events on – as well as the swimming, you can still catch some of the track and field, badminton and squash. And it’s still cheap to fly down – it’s just a question of accommodation. So I want to know: is anyone going? Am I going to be the only NSW resident in town other than Eddie McGuire, who doesn’t count? And is anyone at all tempted to go? If not, why not; and what would it take to get you down there? (If you’re Ian Thorpe, the nation’s particularly keen to know. There’s still time.)

If you’re going to be there, let me know – maybe we can get together in the middle of Swanston St and loudly reminisce about how much better Sydney 2000 was; possibly with the aid of a megaphone. Actually, forget any of the actual events – to a true-blue Sydneysider, that in itself is worth the airfare.

Photo: Dallas Kilponen