The first tickets for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow go on sale tomorrow and it’s set to be the biggest major sporting event held in this country since the 2012 Olympic Games – and they’re pretty hard to beat. But really, how big a deal are the Commonwealth Games?
To be precise, 71 nations big, including all the British territories ranging from the Home Nations to the Caribbean dependencies. Not this time will “Team GB” be romping towards the top of the medal table, oh no! Team Scotland are the home nation and they’ll be welcoming the brightest stars from the likes of Australia, India, Sri Lanka and, erm, Tuvalu. Basically all the teams that aren’t too bad at cricket, then.
I say “brightest stars” with a pretty large dollop of doubt. Sandwiched slap bang in the middle of an Olympic cycle, and even more sandwiched between world championships (in sports that have them biennially), the Commonwealth Games aren’t a big pull. The multi-sport festival doesn’t always bring in the top names, giving youngsters more of a chance to add “Commonwealth Champion” to their CV, so it’s pretty surprising when somebody like Usain Bolt says he’s “thinking about” making the trip to Glasgow next year. Having missed Melbourne and Delhi through injury, the small problem of not owning a Commonwealth gold for Jamaica may not always weigh heavy on his mind, particularly after securing yet another “triple” in the World Athletics Championships this week, yet referring to 2014 as an “off year” gives you some idea of what superstars like Bolt think of the Games.
If the world’s best aren’t all booked into make the journey, then who can the home team call upon to get the medals flowing? With no guarantees yet made, the best place to look is at who won Olympic medals for Great Britain and Northern Ireland last year. A cursory glance shows some big names; Andy Murray, Sir Chris Hoy, Katherine Grainger, and surprise champions like Scott Brash and Tim Baillie. Not a bad list, right? One problem. The collection of sports to be played with is not the same one as London 2012. Tennis? There’ll be no Murray medals next year, I’m afraid. Rowing for eventual Olympic champion Grainger? Not unless they bring back rowing as a core sport. No equestrian events, no canoeing, no sailing. Plus, despite Hoy suggesting he wanted to bow out at a “home” event (which he did end up doing, in a round and about way), he’s now retired and won’t be thrilling fans at his namesake velodrome.
In fact, the only big name medallists likely to appear at the Games are Olympic silver medallist Michael Jamieson, team bronze gymnast Daniel Purvis and a couple of girls from the GB women’s hockey team, who may or may not still be around to link up with the Scottish side. Don’t get me wrong, the talent pool at the whole Games is greatly diminished with no chance of the Americans, Russians, Chinese, Mexicans and Germans turning up, to name a few, so some athletes will have a much better chance of winning here. Success in badminton, diving and table tennis doesn’t sound so far fetched now.
Swimmer Jamieson was named as one of the stars of the ticketing campaign and will appear in an advert (launching tomorrow) alongside Jessica Ennis (sorry, “Ennis-Hill”) and Nicola Adams, that boxer who won’t go away just because she happened to be scheduled first in the first ever Olympic women’s boxing competition. So that means one Scot and two gold medal winning Englishwomen publicising the Scottish-based Games. Before you accuse me of blindly ignoring the facts as a half-Scot born in England, I do acknowledge that former Scottish competitors David Carry and Allan Wells are also ambassadors for the competition, but they won’t be around to bang home the medals this time, will they? Jamieson is set to take part in a live Twitter Q&A tomorrow, where you can ask him questions like “Why has a swimmer been chosen to headline the advertising campaign when British Swimming is in such a dire state?”. That’s if you can get your question to him, as the #AskMichael hashtag is already in use from popular Australian band member Michael Clifford from 5 Seconds of Summer (no I don’t know either).
All this negativity is getting me down, so that’s have a quick look at the baton being used for the traditional relay around the world that’s absolutely nothing like the Olympic Torch Relay thank you very much. Looking beautiful from the top until you notice that the wooden bit looks either like a small baseball bat or the grip of a cheap hammer from B&Q, the baton will contain a message written by the Queen, which will then be carried to all six continents to Commonwealth nations as far afield Nauru and the Isle of Man, before returning it back to the Queen so that she can read it out at the opening ceremony. A daft tradition but a tradition none the less.
Is there anything that can get me interested in the Commonwealth Games when the 2014 Olympic Winter Games will have finished in Sochi a few months before? Well, this competition has the unique selling point of featuring non-Olympic sports like squash, netball and bowls, which I’m actually always interested to see, particularly squash. Plus, it’s run a rugby sevens tournament for years before that was snapped up by the IOC. It also gives small British islands like Saint Helena and the Turks and Caicos Islands to step into the limelight, no matter how briefly.
It’s up to you how you enjoy the Commonwealth Games, if you plan to at all. You could be forced into obediently supporting athletes from Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland and boo/hiss/punch anyone competing for your neighbours. Or you could cheer them all on, like you did during those amazing two weeks in London. There may be no Team GB, or even it’s biggest stars, but it is sport on a big scale and that makes the Commonwealth Games a big deal.