AFTER being driven to distraction by the media, what else is a man to do but go and watch some women’s netball, and, specifically, a team known as the Sunshine Girls?
Usain Bolt was certainly in need of some light in his life as he emerged yesterday to watch the Jamaica team lose to New Zealand at the SECC.
This was his response to the furore that had been left in his wake, after he is said to have branded Glasgow 2014 as, well, “a bit shit”. To be accurate, and it is important to be accurate, his trip to watch the netball came after he first denied he had said such a thing, via his Twitter page. It was, however, noticeable that whenever he sent out a message on Twitter yesterday, he was sure to use the Commonwealth Games hashtag, #Glasgow2014, perhaps in a belated attempt to mend bridges.
It has already been a long week for Bolt, who arrived in Scotland on Saturday and was immediately whisked to a press conference at the SECC, where the fastest man on earth was also expected to be the quickest-witted one as well.
He didn’t do badly, but it is fair to say Bolt was not equipped to answer questions on the issue of Scottish independence, just as many of us would not be able to provide anything worth recording on the countdown to the next general election in Jamaica, which takes place in 2016 (I was able to Google this; Bolt did not have this luxury when he was planted in front of a few hundred journalists, shortly after stepping off a plane and asked a question he cannot have been expected to anticipate).
Similarly, no sportsperson on earth should be expected to produce off-the-cuff remarks about the on-going situation in Gaza, while the request for a selfie from one reporter was just dim, and sums up why Bolt might be minded to limit his appearances as much as possible during the course of a year, restricting them to prestigious – and lucrative – major athletics events.
It is attempting to answer a far simpler question where he has reportedly stumbled, surprisingly. Asked whether or not he has enjoyed the Commonwealth Games so far, he is reported to have answered that it was not as good as the Olympics, and that he was “not really” having any fun.
Further, he is quoted in The Times as saying, in a remark that has ruffled the feathers of zealots who demand that everyone be on-message, that the whole thing is “a bit shit”. Perhaps the biggest shock is that Bolt has allowed himself to be caught in an unguarded moment, considering that he should know the score by now. If indeed quoted accurately, should it matter that he provided an answer that may have jarred with the love-bombing that has gone on so far, so long as it was an honest one? Lest we forget, however, he is an international sports person. Although he is clearly out on his own in terms of talent, he is among peers here. He has grown famous, as well as rich, on the back of his excellence as a sprinter. If that fame is now leaving him feeling engulfed, or hunted, then it is a price he must pay. David Beckham, for one, appears to recognise that it is a sometimes-distasteful deal that he has struck, which, while at times annoying, also helps keep his family in the style to which they have become accustomed, and means he is rewarded for simply turning up in places and for promoting brands.
Bolt’s appearance here at all is said by some to have been down to encouragement from Sir Richard Branson, no stranger to public gaffes himself, of course, and from whom Bolt pockets about £1m a year to endorse Virgin products. While he has deigned to appear in the 4x100m relay at a tournament where Virgin are one of the main sponsors, is it too much to ask that, in return for such handsome amounts of money, Bolt can also take part in the individual event that made his name?
It is a source of some regret that Bolt has opted out of the 100m sprint, but then he can point to the fact that, at the last Games in Delhi, not one of the top 11 fastest athletes in the commonwealth turned up. As tough as it might be for some people to hear, the Games do not push everyone’s buttons.
Glasgow is not exactly optimal conditions for sprinting either. At Hampden on Tuesday night, even hardened Scots were complaining of the chill, though tolerance levels are perhaps now lower due to the recent spell of particularly warm weather.
Still, most have joined in with the acclaim for these Games, with even Bolt’s compatriot Yohan Blake, who is not here, tweeting yesterday that it looked like an “awesome” atmosphere at Hampden, while he also approved of a track that, he said, looked “fast”. He added: “Kudos to the organisers.” But then it is easy to cheerlead from the sidelines. Blake is, allegedly, one of these who priced himself out of these Games.
It must be remembered that, in contrast to Mo Farah and some other notable absentees, Bolt is here, is staying in the athletes’ village and is preparing to provide Hampden with a glimpse of greatness on Saturday, and tomorrow too, if he decides to compete in the heats. Indeed, the current row might work in the organisers’ favour; Bolt is likely to be more minded to carry out some personal PR and run these heats, in a “that’ll show them” act of defiance to those who he considers trouble-makers.
It is then that we are likely to learn there are no hard feelings. It should take more than an off-colour aside to offend Mother Glasgow, a city with ever more reason to feel confident about herself.