Usain Bolt was right about the Commonwealth Games, but we shouldn't blame the organisers

The BBC is trying so hard to make the event seem bigger and better than it actually is

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Three short, careless syllables attributed to Usain Bolt have created the most-read story of Glasgow 2014.

His alleged description of these Commonwealth Games as “a bit shit” may have been referring either to the Games themselves or the weather – but more interesting than this is what the subsequent dust-up reveals about our attitude to the event.

Bolt’s comments have been seized upon because they are more interesting than the sport itself. The World’s Fastest Man isn't even competing in the blue-riband event here – he’s only running in the 4x100m relay. Yet so completely does his star power dwarf the Games that he could sneeze and still attract a coterie of reporters.

Clearly, there is a strong desire amongst certain public broadcasters to make something momentous out of these Games. The BBC’s enthusiasm is understandable, given that the Games are one of the final bastions of its free-to-air exclusivity rights – yet their coverage verges not so much on the comprehensive as the fire blanketed.

Take yesterday’s BBC One schedule as an example. Starting at 9am, there were four hours of Commonwealth action before a merciful pause for news about events that actually matter. This was followed by five hours of Games filling up the remainder of the afternoon.

Then, if you were still hungry for geriatric trap-shooting in the wake of that glut, then the Beeb was only too ready to sate your gut. Three more hours of evening coverage was bookended by an hour of Tonight at the Games, a daily highlights programme. Afterwards, this made way for Sportsday, a 15-minute programme dealing with the same highlights as the daily highlights programme.

The problem isn't that the Commonwealth Games are “shit”. As the reactions of the Scottish public in and outside of the venues have shown, they have been an unqualified local success. The problem is that they are nowhere near as riveting as the BBC would have us believe.

There’s a slightly Orwellian feel to the coverage of what is, essentially, a third-rate event. It lags well behind the World Championships of each respective sport – and trails the Olympics by a four-minute mile.

There’s visual evidence of this in the pool, where the World Record times that flash up prior to and following the races have been set by athletes from the absent USA. And when it comes to the track, the reserve Jamaican sprinters clean up with the ease of men strolling to the local Londis for a can of Irn-Bru.

It’s not just the lack of competition that’s the problem – it’s the type of competition on offer too. For example, unless you're an enthusiastic subscriber to Shooting Times, it’s difficult to enjoy an event like the individual full-bore rifle Queen’s Prize.

A bit shot? England's David Luckman is carried in a sedan chair after winning gold for his shooting









That isn't to say that the athletes competing in these events do not possess enormous skill. But they are the victims of a hype machine that has rolled out of control.

We can try to convince ourselves that elite-level sport still has room for the amateur ethos of goodwill – but an event that self-styles itself as the “Friendly Games” will always struggle to achieve mass appeal. Whatever the personal intent behind Usain Bolt’s comments, they unwittingly revealed a widely-shared sentiment.

The Games aren’t shit – they’re just not particularly good.