Commonwealth Glory for Scotland

Glasgow’s eleven days in the sun, metaphorically speaking, came to a close last night as the Commonwealth Games concluded with a ceremony at Hampden Park.  It has been hailed as the best Games ever by the Commonwealth Games Federation President, Prince Imran of Malaysia, as well as by athletes, commentators, journalists and fans.  Glasgow, and Scotland, has shown its true colours to the world and we have proved, to ourselves more than anything that we can pull off such magnificent spectacles.

The Scottish team came away with their biggest haul in history with a fantastic 19 golds and 53 medals overall.  Being the host nation normally comes with a little advantage, but to have achieved so much against some of the world’s top athletes is an impressive achievement.  What’s perhaps the most striking is the variety of sports in which we did well.  Swimming, judo, bowls, gymnastics, boxing, shooting all saw Scots win multiple medals; none of which can be considered a massive sport in a nation where football dominates.  We might be the sick man of Europe and have obesity problems, drink problems etc. but we are performing very well on sport’s world stage.  The Commonwealth Games gives these “smaller” sports much needed exposure, and having these events here in Scotland will hopefully inspire people of all ages to get involved in them and hopefully encourage the government to invest in sport as a way of improving our nation’s health and happiness.

The venues excelled themselves as sporting arenas, with Celtic Park being a great host to the opening ceremony, Ibrox a fantastic and atmospheric host to the rugby sevens and Hampden Park suiting athletics to a tee.  Many have even commented online that Hampden might be better off in the long-run as an athletics venue, with the stadium’s awkward location and the distance between the stands and the pitch making it far from ideal for Scotland’s national football stadium.  The SECC, the Hydro and the new purpose-built Sir Chris Hoy velodrome all came in for praise for their facilities – and most of all for the level of noise that fans were able to make to support the athletes.

The atmosphere of the Games is what I think it will be remembered for most.  Numerous athletes, and some friends that I have spoken to, have said that the atmosphere for this year’s events was even better than it was for the London Olympics two years ago.  We couldn’t compete with that in terms of scale and resources, but I think we more than made up for it with our passion for sport.  Everywhere you looked at the Games, you could see packed venues full of enthusiastic fans.  Even for some of the more traditionally sedate events, like badminton, the crowd whooped and roared throughout – cheering on Scotland and other teams.  One of my favourite stories of the games is of Uganda’s rugby sevens team being supported just as well as they would have been if they were Scottish, with the players and fans’ reaction to their one win in the group stage being testament to Scotland’s love of the underdog.

I can’t honestly say I was even looking forward to the Games as an event before they started, but I did find myself getting more and more into it as it went on.  The level of competition wasn’t quite of an Olympic-standard, with some big name athletes missing meaning that it lacked a certain intensity, but most events were still entertaining to watch.  Usain Bolt, despite claims to the contrary, came to Glasgow and seemed to thoroughly enjoy his role in the competition.  Even though he only ran the 4 x 100m relay for Jamaica, forgoing his usual 100m and 200m sprints, he managed to capture the attention of the Hampden crowd like no-one else could – and played up to their expectations and then some with his dancing to “500 Miles” and taking selfies with fans whilst donning a tartan bunnet.

The Commonwealth Games can’t really be compared to the Olympics or World Championships in terms of what they mean to the elite of world sport, but they provide a fantastic way of experiencing a more laid-back and care-free atmosphere of sport, something that Scotland has been more than capable of providing.  Smaller nations get to have chance of competing with the “big boys”, such as Uganda’s rugby team, weightlifters from Pacific island countries and even Britain’s own islands like the Isle of Man and Jersey.  Something else that I think the Commonwealth Games does brilliantly well is mix in para-sport with the able-bodied programme.  13-year old Erraid Davies was of course Scotland’s leading light in para-sport, taking a bronze medal in the SB9 100m Breaststroke, and it is just one of the more inspiring stories of the Games.  Whether it would be such a good idea at Olympic/Paralympic level I’m not sure.  Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, herself one of Britain’s finest Paralympians of all time, made a good point in a BBC discussion that having the distinction raises the profile of para-sport more so than it would as part of a single programme – although being included as part of events such as the World Championships of single sports, the Diamond League of athletics and the Commonwealth Games can also be good.

Our Commonwealth Games was fantastic, but there were a few areas where we could have done that bit better.  The opening ceremony should have left everyone brimming with national pride, but the consensus afterwards was that it was an okay ceremony saved from a disastrous opening 15 minutes.  The closing ceremony wasn’t much cope either, with a rousing rendition of “500 Miles”, surely the ultimate finale of Scotland’s Games, being amiss.  There were numerous transport problems throughout the Games as the rail network in and around Glasgow struggled to cope with the high demand at times, the Subway was packed to bursting point and shuttle busses failed to run on time, causing some poor revellers to miss the start of their events.  Running such a massive event is always difficult and none could go entirely without a hitch, and the organisation of the Games in general has been applauded.

So while the attention fades away from the sport to other matters for the Scottish people, etched in their mind will be the scenes of Glasgow 2014 and our massive success in hosting a world-class event “round oor hoose”.  Whether it provides a boost in the polls for the Yes campaign before next month’s independence referendum remains to be seen, but nonetheless it’s clear that Scotland can achieve big things and be a bold wee part of the world.  The true legacy of the Commonwealth Games won’t be the medals we won, but how we choose to build upon what’s been one of our finest hours in terms of sport but also in terms of our nation.

All-in-all, as Prince Imran put it in his closing speech, Glasgow 2014 was “pure dead brilliant” and I don’t think any cynic would have the heart to disagree.

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