“No lack of heart but a lack of oomph”. This was the Guardian’s response to the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony which drew an audience of over 9 million viewers last week. I have to admit that even I was sceptical when I saw the dancing Tunnock’s teacakes. But for some this phrase may as well have applied to the whole event, which has been criticised from many different angles. Cyclist Jess Varnish openly claimed that coaching staff were not taking the event seriously enough and Usain Bolt is reported to have said that “the Olympics were better”.
Even the hashtag ‘ThingsMoreExcitingThanTheCommonwealthGames’ was soon trending, with responses including, “Reading the iTunes terms and conditions”, and “Southampton FC’s 2014/15 season prospects”. But is it really fair to compare 2012 with 2014, London with Glasgow, and the Commonwealth Games with the Olympics? Or is it just a pointless comparison made by those who believe that nothing will ever surpass London 2012 and will therefore remain unsatisfied by ever future sporting event?
If we answer the critics by looking at Glasgow 2014 next to London 2012, then we must ask ourselves what made the last Olympics so special. For many it was the spirit and atmosphere that went with it, the feeling that the whole country was completely behind one event, the sight of the Union Jack everywhere and the enormous crowds drawn to every discipline. Replace the Union Jack with the Scottish flag and you have the same scenario in Scotland. On flying into Glasgow airport a week before the Games I was greeted by an athletics track painted on the floor in the arrivals area and a sea of volunteers offering to direct me to the train station. Many athletes have paid tribute to the fantastic crowds after winning medals, none more so than Libby Clegg, Scotland’s visually impaired 100m gold medallist, who said that the roar of the crowd in Hampden Park assured her that she was leading in the final stages of her race. Cheers have not just been reserved for Scottish athletes, with England’s Jo Pavey pulling out one of the outstanding athletics performances of the week to win 5000m bronze at the age of 40 to enormous cheers from the crowd which carried her down the home strait. Despite the conditions during the cycling road race being remarkably similar to the pouring rain we saw in London, the people lining the streets of Glasgow nevertheless suggests that the so-called ‘British spirit’ and ‘Games fever’ that were so widely-praised in 2012 are still alive and well two years on.
Another criticism has been of the very concept of the Commonwealth Games, because of its so-called ‘second tier’ status compared to the Olympics. It is true that there were some notable absences, including Mo Farah and Jess Ennis-Hill, however Farah did try his best to make it to the Games, only being ruled out several weeks beforehand through injury, whilst Ennis-Hill could hardly be expected to compete just weeks after having her first child. Despite their absence, there was no shortage of world-class performances, with Kirani James now just a second away from breaking Michael Johnson’s long-standing 400m world record and Nijel Amos producing a fantastic run to beat Olympic champion David Rudisha in the 800m.
It is true that the standards for the Commonwealth Games may be slightly lower than for the Olympics, but is it so bad that more athletes should be given a chance? For some the trip to Glasgow will have been a life-changing experience in ways that we cannot imagine. One example is Taoriba Biniati, an 18 year old from the islands of Kiribati, who only started boxing last year, is thought to be the first female boxer ever in her country, had never boxed against another woman or even left Kiribati. The competition is also crucial for allowing young athletes to participate in top level competitions without the pressure of the Olympics; these Games have showed that Team GB have a lot to be excited about in the run up to Rio 2016, with athletes such as Claudia Fragapane, Jessica Judd and Ross Murdoch showing they have the potential to excel on the world stage. More importantly, the reaction of the medal-winners is very revealing in showing us how much the competition means. Euan Burton’s delight at his gold medal after disappointment in London shows that whatever we think as spectators, the Commonwealth Games are definitely not seen as second-rate by competitors.
So from the response of both parties, it seems that the Commonwealth Games can offer the same excitement and fantastic sport as the Olympics, which the past week has definitely showed. However, they can only continue to do so if they get the support they need. Despite his comments earlier in the week, Usain Bolt managed to light up Hampden Park not just with his gold medal-winning final leg of the relay but also by throwing in a few dance moves after the race.
For any sporting event to be successful it relies on both the competitors and the supporters getting behind it; as the Games went on both became more enthusiastic and the atmosphere around the Games grew as a result. But the fact that the Commonwealth Games has managed to somewhat recreate the atmosphere of those weeks in 2012 should not take away from their uniqueness. There is arguably a lot the Olympics can learn from the Commonwealth Games, not least the decision to run the paralympic events alongside the able-bodied ones, rather than as a somewhat anti-climactic afterthought.
So as the Games come to a close, let us be grateful for the fantastic sport that we have been treated to over the last ten days, and all the drama, camaraderie, emotion and celebration it has brought with it. Now, where is my teacake?