Book of the week: The Commonwealth Games by Brian Oliver
Brian Oliver devotes a chapter, entitled “Con Man”, to the unedifying saga that was the 1986 Commonwealth Games
Saturday 26 July 2014
The 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow are already proving far more of a success than the 1986 version in Edinburgh, the last time they were held in Scotland.
After a series of organisational bungles by local worthies, those Games were in danger of collapsing before they had started until the booming, bombastic Robert Maxwell stepped in to “save” them with five weeks to go.
Further disasters followed as, incensed by the British Government’s refusal to impose economic sanctions on South Africa, 32 nations – representing nearly 1,500 of the 3,151 athletes scheduled to take part – pulled out.
Brian Oliver devotes a chapter, entitled “Con Man”, to the unedifying saga, but in the main focuses on the positives and the personalities of an event founded in 1930 with the intention of being “merrier and less stern” than the Olympics. His intention is to provide a human rather than statistical history, and in this he succeeds triumphantly.
Perhaps the most extraordinary story he tells is that of Precious McKenzie, the 4ft 10in weightlifter who rose from abject poverty, abuse and discrimination in South Africa to win four Commonwealth golds from 1966 to 1978 and become a personal favourite of the Queen. Other highlights include the combative career of Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser, the feats of English marathon man Ron Hill and, on a sadder note, the all-too-brief flowering of the Scottish swimming phenomenon Ian Black, who retired disillusioned at 19.
As Oliver points out, the competitive heyday of the Games were from the Fifties to the Seventies, when the lack of world championships in many sports – notably athletics and swimming – ensured strong fields.
But the “Friendly Games” have always been about much more than medals; they have proved stubbornly resilient in a more cynical age, and Oliver’s vivid tales remind us what we would miss if they ceased to be.
Published in large-format paperback by Bloomsbury, £12.99
Latest in Sport
VIDEO: Did Marcos Maidana bite Floyd Mayweather during their bout?
Manchester United vs QPR comment: Glimpse of Radamel Falcao lifts United hearts but Daley Blind keeps things ticking
Hull City vs West Ham preview: Sam Allardyce backs Alex Song to inspire new team-mates
Rio Ferdinand: David Moyes's tactics were embarrassing and I wanted to grab him when he dropped me in front of Manchester United squad
Manchester United vs QPR player ratings: Who was the star man? Angel Di Maria? Daley Blind? Wayne Rooney?
- 1 British tourists 'murdered' in Thailand: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
- 2 Vivienne Westwood says 'Yes' to Scottish Independence by declaring: 'I hate England'
- 3 Welcome to Cameroon, where drinking Baileys can lead to imprisonment
- 4 Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
- 5 Vogue under fire for 'Big Booty' article
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly
Salmond accused of laughing off national debt with ‘what are they going to do: invade?’ joke
£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...
£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...
£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...
£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...