The XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
Sitting waiting on a gloriously hot evening in Glasgow for the Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games was an interesting experience. I am accredited as press to these Games because I am on the editorial board of a magazine called India Link International and you can immediately see the relevance of me being able to cover the Games for the Indian Diaspora. However, I do not see myself as a journalist so it was a new experience being amongst the international press. Graham my husband was sitting down in another part of the stadium within visual distance as I had asked for him to be my ‘photographer’. So for me it was a bit lonely at first but then I was joined by Jonathan Brown who is a journalist for The Independent and we got on really well. From time to time I realised he was sizing up my reactions to the developing entertainment and quizzing me gently on various aspects of Scotland, the Referendum, obviously my reactions to all things Commonwealth and the Royal family!
The Commonwealth Network
Britain has always tried to position herself as a friend, maybe even mentor and certainly partner in progress of all the countries of her former colonial heritage. It is worth noting that Mozambique and Rwanda chose to join this network of nations despite not having been part of the colonial past of the UK and there are other countries who have similar aspirations. Admittedly from time to time countries who wilfully transgress the ideals of the Commonwealth are expelled…but they can return if they have a volte face.
For someone considered a baby boomer the Commonwealth has played an important part in my life. Here at the Games one can see a mighty country like India, about which I am pretty passionate, put in the same context as Norfolk Island which is absolutely tiny and somewhere between Australia and New Zealand….that is the value of this great network…it is a network not a body such as the EU. There are squabbles and huge cultural differences but they can all come together as is being seen yet again in the Athletes’ Village. Having been given a tour of the Village on 11th July I know it was well thought out and completed and pretty astounding when you consider that over 400,000 meals will be cooked and served over 14 days….up to 6,500 breakfasts daily and similar number of other meals, by 200 Chefs who will work in shifts 24/7 to provide whatever the various athletes require for their dietary and personal and cultural requirements. The medical facility is staffed by 1,400 volunteer qualified medical personnel with only about 14 salaried staff. The equipment was awesome with full MRI and X-ray facilities and ice baths and every other form of medical equipment that might help athletes to keep healthy. The hair salon also has a nail bar and provides the services free to all Village inhabitants. There is naturally a shop, an ATM and a post office on site.
The Opening Ceremony
The Opening Ceremony was very enjoyable with perhaps the eternal ‘tartanalia’ initially but that developed into a look at what Scots had given the world and then into the Commonwealth and the new idea of asking people to donate to Unicef which I think was very good. It was lovely to see all the thousands of cell phones winking showing they had texted their donation. Whether the Athletes were from India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, plus all the tropical islands and other African countries and England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and the two Channel Islands or of course lastly Scotland a loud cheer went up and the little Scottie dogs stole the show. As a vet’s wife I was delighted to see this breed getting an airing as their numbers are in decline and maybe this will give them a welcome promotion. HM The Queen and HRH Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh seemed in fine form and the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay and Earl and Countess of Wessex were also present but remained firmly in the background. The Royal Family continued their strong support throughout the coming days and Prince Edward has attended on every day. Mr Salmond did not make a political point thankfully because he would have been booed had he done so and HM declared the Games open. Then……the long walk back to the press coaches and when we arrived back at SECC yet another bus but this entailed us having to walk the length of Renfrew Street to get back to the scruffy hotel in which we spent the night …. though the hotel was budget (three figure for this period) at least one expected to sleep but a throbbing disco opposite did not stop till 0400 and I had hit my pillow at 01.30 hours!
A hot start to the Games
The following day saw us at Strathclyde Country Park for the Triathlon which was gruelling in the heat…28C but in a beautiful venue and for mere spectators awesome in the determination and stoicism of the athletes… and then we wearily made our way home. On the first Saturday we visited the Judo, Boxing, Netball and then Usain Bolt’s press conference. He was extremely sensible and straightforward and deflected some very stupid questions which were downright political about global events and the Scottish Referendum. He must have been jet lagged but was very good with the eager shy children who were asked to pose with him and Clyde the Games Mascot. I liked him and wish him well. Subsequently Usain Bolt was involved in a controversy about what he perhaps unwisely said to a journalist; I suspect that both versions have some truth. He may have been dejected by a short burst of rainy weather whereas all in all the weather has been excellent with lots of warmth and sunshine. If he had actually expressed dissatisfaction with the Games then he swiftly recognized that it had been very unwise and the ensuing coverage in the whole of the press was pretty condemnatory…to him and he had allowed himself to become seen negatively which was not a good move for anyone in the public eye. However, he participated in the heats for the Men’s Relay on 1st August and Jamaica won easily and then he gave a typical Usain response to the media and denied what has been alleged. The top commentators, all onetime Athletes, all said that it is actually not his sort of comment to use a term of cheap abuse knowing he would be quoted. So let us hope he sets the stadium on fire on this Saturday night!
We ended that first Saturday by going and watching Weightlifting …..this writer is not a sportswoman in the true sense so all these wonderful sports were first time experiences and a real delight. Somehow the weightlifting took my fancy and at one stage it looked as if the Indian would win the day but then the amazing Zoe Smith of England, only 20 years old won Gold, followed by the Nigerian and the Welsh competitor who took Bronze - Michaela Breeze…who is a Gold medallist from previous contests. The medal ceremony was worth watching but the best bit was Zoe Smith having realized she had won and set a record…she did a back flip to the delight of us all….she is a gymnast as well! Subsequently I was approached with the back story of the Seychelles female weightlifter who had come fourth that evening – she is a young woman who had collapsed in Delhi and been found to have a brain tumour which had to be operated upon urgently. She returned to full health and Clementina Agricole was in good form in that weightlifting completion which was so good to hear. So often with Athletes when they win or are placed one then is told about their various challenges and what they have had to overcome; that is what makes these Friendly Games so worthwhile.
The Gold medals keep rolling in, for Scotland, England, India, Australia and everywhere having their opportunity. Swimming, diving, athletics, rugby 7s, hockey, shooting, cycling, gymnastics, table tennis, boxing and a choice that totals 17 sports - well it is all there for our enjoyment as spectators and I was so glad to see lots of children at all the sports. Indeed our own grandchildren were attending the Rugby7s and the granddaughter attended Artistic Gymnastics and what an experience that was with Canadian, English and Scottish wins as we watched ourselves.
Now as I write this the Games will be coming to an end….sadly All Good Things do inevitably come to an end but on this occasion the memories will be greatly cherished by us all. I watched the Finals of various Gymnastics disciplines which were just awesome….so much precision, expertise suppleness and beauty of the human body in both genders. Yesterday we went to the Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh to watch the Diving. That too was truly stunning in a beautiful location and with a good atmosphere. Before that we had been to Hampden Park to watch the Athletics which was very exciting. Indeed tonight once home and rather weary I have watched on the edge of my seat the 10000 metres which had a most thrilling climax. There are some truly noble Athletes like David Rudisha and others and there are those one can see who are just emerging shyly but their confidence will surely grow with success and support. Naturally the Home Audience cheered Scots athletes to the rafters and some great new stars have been discovered.
Well done the Volunteers
The Volunteers have been wonderful; always smiling, willing to help or cheer one up, the Athletes have been total Stars and Glasgow has put her best foot forward. I feel truly privileged to have been just a very small part of it all. Glasgow has done her best as a city to welcome and provide everything for Athletes and Spectators and as we Scots say if you have been before and are thinking of returning ‘Haste Ye Back’.
Service and Commemoration
On a sombre note: the phrase ‘Honouring the Tariqs as well as the Tommies’ was spoken recently with regard to the supreme sacrifice of those from other nations that fought in the Great War to which I would add the Anils as well as the Alans……more than 70,000 soldiers from the British Indian Army alone lost their lives during the conflict. Over 100,000 Canadians and Australians died in battle. In 1915 the British Army formed a West Indies regiment to accommodate the 15,000 Caribbean volunteers who had made their way to Britain to fight in the war……to end all wars.
Well it was not that – indeed historians looking back on the 20th century regard it as another 100 years’ war rather similar to that which took place in the 14th century between the rival kingdoms of England and France, let alone the skirmishes that continued between England and Scotland. And now still, tragically, we descend into warfare even after the enormity of World War II, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, the Iraq War 1 and 2 and the Afghanistan debacle. Now the Middle East is consumed by terrorism and war in a battle for supremacy within a Faith.
In the 4th century BC Aristotle said ‘we make war that we might live in peace…’ and then several hundred years later Calgacus, chief of the Picts, the then inhabitants of my native Scotland said ‘They have made a desert and they call it peace…’ referring to the conquering Roman army. Those phrases are as pertinent to day as when they were first uttered.
Whether it is a ‘just and moral’ war or an act of folly, the men and now the men and women of a nation’s armed forces pay the price and suffer the costs. These are our unsung HEROES. Berthold Brecht used the line ‘Pity the nation that has no heroes…’ to which the sneering rejoinder was ‘Pity the nation that needs heroes…’ Well my friends we all need heroes, to whom we can look up and show respect and use as icons and models for our lives. Heroes I repeat, NOT celebrities; the men and women of our armed forces are unsung heroes and those of the Indian Army in the last century fighting Britain’s wars were superb. By the end of the First World War 1,500,000 people from the Indian Subcontinent, in what was British India, had served overseas, at a cost of 60,000 dead. Some 9.200 soldiers won decorations, including 11 VCs. In the Second World War the Indian Army grew to two and a half million men, the largest volunteer force the world has ever seen. The two world wars resulted in a loss of 87,000 men from the Indian Sub-continent who died for us all; in the horror and turmoil of war acts of great courage and nobility generally go unnoticed – but we must not forget these true unsung heroes.
Simonides of Ceos (556-468 BC) the Greek lyric poet who, after the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, wrote as a memorial to the valiant defenders:
'Go tell the Spartans,
Thou that Passeth by,
That faithful to their precepts,
Here we lie'
These sentiments were later used by John Maxwell Edmonds [1875 - 1958] as part of a collection of 12 epitaphs for World War One – the most famous of which is below and is carved in the memorial stones of the Cemetery at Kohima:
'When You Go Home,
Tell Them of Us and Say
For Their Tomorrow
We gave Our Today'
Those Valiant Hearts gave us their Tomorrows and now we have a duty to find solutions and resolutions that no longer include destructive wars….but we are human and fail time and time again….yet let us please keep trying.
In Glasgow’s cathedral on 4th August the Great and the Good from the Commonwealth Nations gathered to commemorate that dreadful sacrifice and we in Great Britain look with sombre reflection on all that our forefathers gave for our peace. It was entirely fitting that the Service and Commemoration should follow such a celebration of Sport and Friendly competition in Glasgow of the Commonwealth.