Monday, 4 August 2014

Happy and Clyde at the Commonwealth Games

Men's Hurdles At Hampden

Well despite the rain over the last few days, the shortage of buses to the athletics at Hampden in the first couple of days and the excruciating handover to the Gold Coast at the closing ceremony, the Commonwealth Games was a roaring success. This could be measured by the full attendances at all events, loads of medals for Scotland and England, superb coverage by the BBC but most of all by the happy and clyde friendly atmosphere and positive patter that was contagious during the 11 days of competition.

Unfortunately my attempts to obtain tickets had not been very successful mainly because I only tried for athletics and cycling and at my second attempt I was thwarted by the ticketing website crashing. Nevertheless a day at athletics plus a couple of days in Glasgow and most evenings in front of the television gave a wonderful take on sport as it should be played and an enthusiasm from the spectators that was so infectious that Usain Bolt was dancing to the Proclaimers.

I enjoyed watching the Nigerian sprinter, Blessing Okagbare, the Grenadian 400 metre runner, Kirani James, and rugby sevens which is so much better a game than rugby. The success of Erraid Davies, the 13 year old Shetland girl in the para sport swimming together with Jo Pavey and Emma Pooley, two mighty tough women who won silver medals in their last events prior to retiral provided the most emotional victories. Most of all I was delighted that Geraint Thomas of Wales won the hardest event of all the 168km cycle race in torrential Glasgow rain. He was the only British finisher in the Tour de France and had led the peleton day after day riding with immense commitment and was the stand out rider in the very disappointing Team Sky.

Daniel Purvis and Daniel Keatings, the Scottish gold medal gymnasts who train in England, were both part of the excellent tranche of athletes graduating from the Institute of Sports coaching that started in the late 1990's using Sports Lottery money. They are normally members of the unified GB team in a similar way to the Scottish cyclists who have trained at Manchester and the swimmers at Bath as well as Stirling.

Hampden worked so much better as an athletics stadium than it does for football. This is maybe because I prefer to stand at football matches and the tribal nature of fans is diluted in the shallow and spacious seated terraces. For athletics the watching is more relaxed, more supportive of excellence and the underdog and certainly less trenchant. Although I was pleased that England beat Australia in the medals table for the first time in a generation and that Scotland had their best ever medal haul.

There had been a truce between the 'Yes' and 'No' campaigns for the Scottish Referendum during the games but yesterday the depute first minister broke the truce and reverted to type claiming that the cascade of Scottish medals would boost the Yes campaign. It is this sort of dubious statement that makes us despair of politicians whose motives are risible. My experience at Hampden was probably typical of thousands of others, we sat next to a young family who had originally hailed from Trinidad and Tobago and by the end of the session we were hollering with them for Trinidad and Tobago and enjoying their warm friendship. The cheers of the crowds throughout the games were for effort, grace and bravery rather than narrow nationalism.

If anything the games broke down barriers between nations as the crowds were unified in humour and humanity and the athletes displayed a humility that is sadly absent in most professional sports This was encouraged by the integration of the para athletes into the games and by the emergence of new young talent in swimming and gymnastics in particular. Multi sport games also dilute the win at all costs mentality that sometimes dominates the Olympics. This has been the case since Rome in 1960 when the United States and the Soviets used sport as the frontline for political propaganda purposes.

So Nicola I suggest you go away and think again. Everyone should be proud of what was achieved by Glasgow in the organisation of the games, by the Scottish team, by teams from the other home countries and by the developing  Commonwealth countries. Most of all we relished the friendship between nations. To claim that "the games have provided a perfect platform for a yes campaign victory," is a both gallus and a sad indictment of politicians. It is certainly not in accord with the majority who have enjoyed the friendly games that have reinforced their belief in both the 'family of home nations' and the banishment of intolerance amongst nations.

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