IT HAS taken ten years and many millions of pounds to reach the starting line, but today the 2014 Commonwealth Games takes its marks in Glasgow.
More than 4,500 athletes and 2,000 officials from 71 nations will open ten days of world class sporting competition. The chief executive of the games’ organiser Glasgow 2014, David Grevemberg, said yesterday that the city was “buzzing” with anticipation.
Tonight, at Celtic Park, the Queen and heads of state from across the Commonwealth will attend the opening ceremony, and if Glasgow lives up to its reputation for throwing a party, it should be a remarkable spectacle.
The track to the games has not always been smooth. There have been many hurdles along the way. So perhaps we should reflect on the remarkable work of those who created the winning bid and went on to bring these games to Scotland.
Labour First Minister Jack McConnell fired the starting gun back in 2004, while his SNP successor, Alex Salmond, working closely with the former Labour leader of Glasgow City Council Steven Purcell, took the bid team across the finishing line when the city was selected as host in 2007.
Since then, there has been dramatic redevelopment of some of the most deprived areas in the east end of Glasgow. The city celebrates new sporting facilities that will live on long after the closing ceremony. It is not just about these 11 days, these are ambitious plans that will leave a physical legacy both in improved housing and community and sports facilities and the improved health of an inspired population.
And the event could not have come at a better time. With two months to go until September’s referendum on Scottish independence, the games come as a most welcome break from an increasingly fractious debate.
As Team Scotland athletes step up, Scots sometimes divided by constitutional battles will unite under the Saltire in support.
These games come not only as a sporting spectacle but as a much needed holiday from a marathon political argument.
The London 2012 Olympics lifted spirits across these islands, and Glasgow 2014 has the potential to recreate that feeling. As well as following the fortunes of Scottish stars such as hurdler Eilidh Child, we’ll see Olympians such as track stars Mo Farah and Usain Bolt and boxer Nicola Adams, athletes at the very top of their disciplines. This Commonwealth Games promises to be filled with exciting moments.
There will be heartbreak for Scotland, no doubt, but we’re confident that Team Scotland contains many medal-winners-in-waiting.
The eyes of many parts of the world will be on Scotland, and if the sun shines and the crowds rise to the occasion, they’ll see us at our very best.
So to each and every member of Team Scotland, let’s wish good luck. Here’s to a thrilling Glasgow 2014.
Russia requires bold response
HOME Secretary Theresa May’s announcement that there is to be a public inquiry into the death of the Russian dissident, Alexander Litvinenko, comes at a most interesting time.
As global pressure mounts on the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, over the shooting down in Ukraine of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, the investigation will examine whether the Russian state was responsible for poisoning the former KGB officer.
The government is adamant that the timing of Ms May’s announcement is coincidental to current events in Ukraine, pointing out that Mr Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, had legally challenged a previous decision not to hold an inquiry. It was said that there were concerns it would not be in the national interest for such an investigation to expose the extent of links between Mr Litvinenko and MI6. That argument is gone, now.
Regardless of the catalyst for this change of heart on the part of the UK government, the investigation may be expected by some in Whitehall to make life more difficult for Mr Putin.
Of course, Mrs Litvinenko is entitled to answers about her husband’s death, and it is to be hoped that this public inquiry provides some comfort to her.
But if this announcement is designed to apply pressure to Mr Putin, then it’s the sort of game-playing that should be avoided.
It would suit Mr Putin very much indeed for the British government to appear to be joining the political obfuscation that it is employing in the aftermath of the missile attack. The government of the UK – a number of whose citizens were murdered last week – should be bold and direct when dealing with Russia.