If a medal is ever awarded for volunteering at major sports events, Omprakash Mundra and his wife, Premlata, will definitely be in the running.
The Mundras, who live outside Mumbai, India, have been volunteers at seven Olympic Games, one Commonwealth Games, four soccer World Cups and one Asian Games. They have signed up to help out at the upcoming World Cup in Brazil and next year’s Pan American Games in Toronto. And they can’t wait until the request for volunteers goes out for the 2016 Olympics.
“Sports is my religion and I say this is the biggest religion in the world,” said Mundra as he and his wife took a break from their duties at the Sochi Olympics on Friday to watch the men’s 15-kilometre cross country ski race, where there was one competitor from India. “This is a great way to travel.”
He is such a sports fanatic that he also regularly attends major tennis events including Wimbledon, the French Open and the U.S. Open as well as the Cricket World Cup. If he can’t find a volunteer spot, he buys a ticket. “I always apply to volunteer. Whether we get it or not it hardly matters,” he said.
Mundra, 64, owns a steel-making company in India but he tends to leave the management of the business to his three sons, giving him more time to travel with his wife. And they always end up at some sporting event, somewhere. He figures he has been to 70 countries so far. “I love all sports,” he said before listing his favorites as soccer, tennis and cricket.
The most memorable event he has been to? The 2010 Vancouver Olympics. “I loved Vancouver. It is one of the most cleanest and beautiful cities in the world,” he said, insisting that he wasn’t just saying that because his inquisitor was from Canada.
He also can’t wait to get to Toronto. “There are lots of Indians there,” he said with a big smile. “No problem with the language, no problem with food. I love Canada.”
When asked about India’s relative lack of prowess at the Olympics, summer or winter, Mundra furrowed his brow. “Politics,” he said sharply.
India's success at the Games has been scant, especially given its population. The country won just four medals at the London Olympics and has only three athletes in Sochi. India's athletes also suffered the indignity of marching under the Olympic flag at the opening ceremonies in Sochi because the Indian Olympic Association had been banned by the International Olympic Committee over allegations of corruption. That meant the Indian flag could not be flown during the opening. The ban has been lifted this week and Indian athletes will be able to carry their flag during the closing ceremonies.
“India is such a country that can produce anything that you want,” said Mundra after discussing the ban and the country's poor performance at the Olympics. “People are capable and they can do anything, but our politicians, they are …”. He didn't finish his sentence.