OF ALL the medals awarded over the past 11 days, surely none glistens more brightly than that earned by Glasgow for its superb hosting of the Commonwealth Games.
It was a major international occasion approached with trepidation and dogged by doubt. What emerged was a national triumph – for the athletes, for the organisers – and for Scotland.
Humour, colour, excitement – and friendliness in abundance: the Games have touched the hearts not only of all those who took part but millions around the world. From the dancing tea cakes, through the Scottie dogs, to sporting achievement and excellence, Glasgow 2014 leaves a legacy of 11 very special days in Scotland’s modern history.
We are a nation often given to doubt and we recoil from self-congratulation. Many feared we would not embrace the Games, still less pull off such a complex and demanding occasion without mishap. Would such events as weightlifting and wrestling and hockey play to half-empty stadiums and the facilities rise to something more than the minimum required? Would we run out of money and be left with a whopping bill, as happened in Edinburgh in 1986? Above all, would it really be a “friendly Games” given the backdrop of a ferocious and highly divisive independence referendum campaign?
But few can recall an event that has made Scots more proud. From the welcoming spirit shown throughout to the near-perfect organisation and logistics, the hosting of these Games showed Scotland at its best. All the feared shortcomings and mishaps were avoided – including a wayward proposal to blow up the Red Road flats. Had this not been dropped, these would have been remembered as the Games held in that odd place where the natives celebrated by blowing up their houses.
The Games have been fully inclusive, with every nation’s success celebrated. Suggestions of possible booing of the England team proved unfounded. A sporting welcome was fully extended. And there were many moments that were deeply affecting. There was the triumph of 13-year-old Scots swimmer Erraid Davies who sensationally won a bronze medal; the Hampden roar for Lynsey Sharp in clinching a silver medal in the 800 metres when all had seemed lost, and the enthralling performance of sprint superstar Usain Bolt who sent a raucous crowd into a frenzy in the 4x100m relay.
The Games displayed a pervasive sense of warmth and togetherness rarely achieved by any other sporting occasion. The spirit demonstrated in the competitive arena, in the stands, and on the streets has been a joy to behold. The Games have brought out the best in us, in contrast to the referendum which has often done quite the opposite.
And what a joy it has been to take a much-needed break from that debate. Over the next six weeks, many of us will yearn for a return to the Scotland we have lived in over these past 11 days.
Were the Games worth it? This was after all a huge and expensive undertaking, with a price-tag of £575 million. Most certainly they were. The events had full houses, a packed city, a transport system that only creaked because of the enormous interest generated, and world-class facilities.
The city’s hotels and restaurants have been reporting record business. And the Games will have arguably done more for Scottish tourism than VisitScotland could have dreamed of.
There has been much talk about legacy. It is something we will not be able to judge for some time. But the journey has started.
The Hampden track on which Usain Bolt won relay gold is to be re-used to benefit future generations of Scottish athletes. Falkirk and Glasgow district councils have applied to receive some of the Mondo surfaces both from the main arena and from the warm-up track next door to the stadium, and once re-laid they will form part of two full-size running tracks.
As to the wider legacy, we must not lose direction. It cannot be left to the hard-core volunteers, the dedicated networks of coaches and sporting agencies that have got us this far. Many of the successes have been minor miracles. It would be wrong to rein in investment in sport on the basis that this was a one-off event. On the contrary: this is a springboard. The Games have provided inspiration and motivation by the bucket full. And pure sport such as that we have witnessed is a force for good in so many respects, not least health. This is our big chance.
Scotland can be very proud of what has been achieved over these 11 days, and indeed over the last ten years of planning. Hopefully, it has given us the confidence to look at other events, such as Euro 2024, and try to bring them here. Whatever happens, no-one can take away the fact that the way we responded to the Games has been a credit to us.
Let there not be too much sadness today. Glasgow 2014 could be just the beginning.