Let the Games conclude

Many predicted Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games would be hijacked by political campaigners in the run-up to Scotland’s independence referendum. It appears they were wrong

Photograph: Quinn Rooney/Getty

Photograph: Quinn Rooney/Getty

Sat, Aug 2, 2014, 01:00

For a city that prides itself often on its tough, mean-streets reputation, Glasgow has thrived over the past 10 days, as it has played host to the Commonwealth Games.

For many the Games are a throwback to a forgotten era: “the pretendy Olympics”, in the benign words of the lcoal comedian Billy Connolly. They have come with a bill of almost £600 million – a fraction of the cost of the London Olympics two years ago, even if Glasgow, too, went over budget.

During the opening ceremony, at Celtic Park, the sparkling pictures the Games’ organisers had hoped for went a little flat when rows of seats were clearly empty. In general, however, audiences have been healthy – 45,000 people, for example, went to Rangers’ home ground, Ibrox, to watch seven-player rugby.

Before the Games began, both sides in the independence-referendum campaign, particularly the pro-union one, claimed that the event would be exploited for political ends.

Under the rules of the organising committee, flags that advocate a political cause – saltires emblazoned with Yes, for example – were barred from all venues, as they always have been.

On Wednesday a woman was escorted from the swimming competition after she unfurled such a flag. Given that the independence referendum is just weeks away – it is being held on September 18th – all sides are sensitive to every slight, and the action prompted a flutter of social-media chatter.

Warm support

Such matters have, however, been sideshows. On Wednesday hundreds gathered in Scotstoun to watch squash doubles – hardly a big-ticket sport – and filled perhaps a third of the seats in the stadium. The event gave the lie to the argument that the Scots would indulge in cheap nationalism during the Games.

Instead the spectators cheered the English pair of Adrian Grant and Nick Matthew when they walked out to play Moreaina Wei and Schubert Maketu, of Papua New Guinea. Understandably, the volume of support increased substantially when the Scots pairing of Stuart Crawford and Greg Lobban appeared.

Glasgow, even the element that was begrudging beforehand, has revelled in the Games, particularly enjoying the praise the city has received for its friendliness.

“Mostly we’ll take away the warmth of Glasgow people. I have to say, this is a city full of friends,” says Bert Le Clos, whose son Chad is a member of the South African swimming team.

On Wednesday the image took a brief knock when the sprinter Usain Bolt was quoted by the London Times as saying that the Games were “a bit shit” and that he was “not really” enjoying himself.

The Jamaican star’s presence in Glasgow has been half-hearted from the off: he signed up for the 4x100 metres relay but not for the other two events in which he is Olympic champion, the 100 and 200 metres.

Bolt issued a swift denial, saying that journalists were telling lies. His manager, Ricky Simms, later condemned the story as “utter rubbish”, although the Times insists that it quoted him accurately and has refused to back down.

“The atmosphere in and around the stadiums has been absolutely fantastic. I have no idea where these quotes have come from,” Bolt’s manager said.

The controversy led to complaints that “an English paper” had tried “to knock the Games”.

Glasgow has invested much in believing that the Commonwealth Games can burnish its global image. For decades the city struggled in the wake of the collapse of shipbuilding and other traditional industries.

But Glasgow believes in rebranding. In the early 1980s it launched the Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign, which morphed over the years into Glasgow Smiles Better.It is still regarded as one of the world’s best efforts to change a city’s image, a significant contribution to the city’s tourism success.

Successful presentation

Glasgow fretted about hosting the Games, particularly in the wake of chaos that damaged Delhi’s reputation four years ago. But barring some traffic problems, and an unpleasant novovirus that made its presence felt in the athletes’ village, matters have proceeded well.

So far the leaders of both sides in the independence campaign have been on their best behaviour, lest they be accused of trying to take political advantage – apart from First Minister Alex Salmond’s pre-Games declaration that Glasgow will be Scotland’s “freedom city” on September 18th.

For now Salmond has felt little need to repeat such calls: the Scots, broadly, are happy with how the Games have gone, and their athletes have won medals by the score.

The referendum will be fought on September 18th in the ballot boxes, not at Ibrox or Parkhead.

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