Commonwealth Games 2014: It ain’t London 2012, but Glasgow aims to go ‘with a roar’

Organisers promise ‘best ever’ Games while Brits ponder prospect of racing team-mates

glasgow

For Glasgow 2014, a Games set to introduce itself this evening in front of an enthusiastic home audience, but one that gets ever more sceptical the greater the distance travelled from Celtic Park, it would be a mistake to think London 2012 Mark II. As the ceremony progresses it will soon become clear that is an unfair and unnecessary comparison, whatever Alex Salmond might suggest. Instead, rewind a further decade and think Manchester 2002.

The Commonwealth Games, in scale, budget, status, sporting achievement and just about everything else, is not the Olympics, although like the Olympics and any other major sporting event worth its salt it does come with an overspend – in Glasgow’s case it’s in the region of £200m.

This is an oddity of an event, begun by a Canadian called Melville Marks Robinson who had become irritated by the Americans’ win-at-all-costs attitude to the Olympics. Robinson wanted it to be the Friendly Games. Some 80 years later that tag remains and today that is not an ambition likely to strike a chord with any professional athlete no matter their nationality. Professional sport has never been more about winning. There is though still a place for the Commonwealth Games, both as a sporting event and an event that a city such as Glasgow wants to host and will benefit from doing so.

Video: Commonwealth Games 2014

“These Games have been seven years in the making,” said Salmond when he had recalibrated his sights. “They will take place over 11 days but their effects will be felt for generations. The Games have created employment opportunities all over Scotland for thousands of young people. These Games will change the lives of people in this country for the better. The venues have been open for some time and they are already proving to be powerful investments, paying their way before the Games has started.”

There is truth in there. The area around Celtic Park – home of tonight’s opening ceremony – Glasgow’s east end, will benefit from the Games, as part of a wider and longer term regeneration of parts of the city, and sport in Scotland will benefit from the facilities the Games leave behind.

Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland speaks at the Commonwealth Games media centre (Getty) Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland speaks at the Commonwealth Games media centre (Getty)
The Manchester model is the one those behind Glasgow’s successful bid and execution of that plan first looked to, although lessons from London have also been absorbed.

“We first thought about having the Games in Scotland after we saw what Manchester did, and our aspirations were to do it better than that,” said Michael Kavanagh, chairman of Commonwealth Games Scotland. “The next Games were Melbourne, which were absolutely fantastic. And I must admit there were times I thought ‘I wonder if we will ever match that’. But what we are about to deliver in Glasgow, I think, will be the best ever Commonwealth Games for sure.”

As with any successful event of this sort the background noise is quickly forgotten once the running and jumping starts (although this is a Games that can match an Olympics in the desire of politicians to attach their bandwagons to sporting success, with Salmond and his yes men jousting with David Cameron, likely to be the sole Englishman booed in these parts over the next 11 days, and his naysayers). So what to expect of the main event, the sport?

Laura Trott and Jason Kenny, the golden couple of British cycling, rather gave the game away in the build-up saying bluntly that the Commonwealths are not so important because they don’t pay the bills. Many sports here operate in Olympic cycles and this is halfway to Rio. The exchange rate for a Commonwealth gold would probably be a place in an Olympic final.

Hannah Miley will be one of the Scottish medal hopes on the first day of the Games (Getty) Hannah Miley will be one of the Scottish medal hopes on the first day of the Games (Getty)
For British athletes it is a curious experience, breaking off from the carefully laid Olympic plans to race each other – “a bit weird” is how Elinor Barker, the bright young Welsh cyclist, described the prospect of taking on the likes of Trott and Scotland’s Katie Archibald, her British team-mates in  the pursuit.

Yet there are sporting treats in store, and some fascinating narratives to be told. On Thursday Sir Bradley Wiggins returns to the track, a waned star desperately seeking a future. Then there is Mo Farah and his attempt to claim another 5,000/10,000m double. And Usain Bolt’s scheduled appearance in the 100m relay – even that brief outing will sprinkle stardust on the Games. Chad le Clos swimming, Tom Daley diving, the brilliant David Rudisha in the 800m, Kirani James in the 400m – there is enough world-class quality here to raise hopes of something to remember. Beyond that there is plenty to whet the appetite and attract the curious; rugby sevens, netball’s big week out of the shadows, squash’s chance to show off. The BBC is giving this Olympic standard coverage and that alone will do wonders for Glasgow (providing everything works).

What any Games needs is large crowds – ticket sales have been decent but there are still plenty available – creating a buoyant atmosphere (see London and Manchester) and to get that atmosphere nothing gets the party started like a home success. Glasgow wants to put on the best Commonwealth Games and those in charge of the hosts’ team are promising to match that with a best-ever Scottish medal return.

Gordon Strachan, manager of the Scottish National Football team, poses for pictures with 'games makers' as he carries the 2014 Commonwealth Games baton at Hampden Park Stadium (Getty) Gordon Strachan, manager of the Scottish National Football team, poses for pictures with 'games makers' as he carries the 2014 Commonwealth Games baton at Hampden Park Stadium (Getty)
The plan is for a small nation to connect with its men and women in blue. “Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody in the team,” said Jon Doig, Scotland’s chef de mission. My taxi driver from the airport has tickets to watch his nephew play in the table tennis. He is nervous and excited about what might happen to Sean Doherty, a 22-year-old playing in his home city. He, and the rest of the city, wants something to cheer.

Day one sees Michael Jamieson and Hannah Miley carry the Saltire into the pool, while there are also strong hopes in the velodrome. The talk is of a two-hour window on the first evening when the first home medal, maybe even a gold, might arrive.

This is a football city, and always will be, even if  last night Celtic found themselves banished to Edinburgh for the second leg of their Champions League qualifier. But it is also a city that seems prepared to forget its sporting roots for a week or two, and should a Scot on a bike or Miley and Jamieson claim that piece of gold on Thursday night then that temporary switch of allegiance will become a certainty. “We are,” said Doig, “well placed to start day one with a roar.”

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