Glasgow 2014 aims to buck the trend

Glasgow Commonwealth Games mascot Clyde. Picture: PA
Glasgow Commonwealth Games mascot Clyde. Picture: PA
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THE legacy plan for the 2014 Commonwealth Games is nothing if not ambitious.

It starts with multi-million pound business contracts, new skills and jobs for the unemployed, as well as a transformation of Glasgow’s east end. It continues with increased physical activity across Scotland, sustainability and a cultural programme that will enhance international learning. Some have quipped that, if they had really put their mind to it, they could have come up with a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict while they were at it.

Followers of sporting jamborees, and more particularly the ethics of them, can be excused a degree of cynicism. The term “legacy” has become almost a byword for self-serving political jargon, the like of which was lampooned in Twenty Twelve, the BBC mockumentary that counted down to the London Olympics. Similar fun could be had at the expense of golf, a sport in which the Ryder Cup brings only a temporary boost to its host nation. In football, the recent Confederations Cup was overshadowed by nationwide protests that the Brazilian government had wasted public money.

This, of course, is not what Scotland wants to hear as it prepares for the biggest multi-sports event ever to be held on these shores but, with a year to go until its opening ceremony at Celtic Park, and the bill coming in at over half-a-billion pounds – footed mostly by the Scottish Government – the question is pertinent: What difference will it make?

Quite a lot, say the main backers, which also include Glasgow City Council and Glasgow 2014, the body charged with executing a successful Games. So much, in fact, that they are willing to let the event be judged on the very criteria that many are suspicious of.

“A successful Games won’t just be measured in medals,” it says on the Scottish Government’s Legacy 2014 website. “It’ll be measured in jobs. It’ll be measured in the success of businesses. It’ll be measured in the number of people getting active and using the new sports facilities in their local communities.”

If that sounds like them putting their neck on the line, it is because they have to. Ever since Montreal famously saddled itself with a disastrous 30-year debt problem by staging the 1976 Olympic Games, countries that fancy a summer in the global spotlight need another reason to justify slapping in their bid. It has to be more than an ego trip.

The trouble is that legacy, by definition a long-term commodity, is not easily measured, especially at the times when it is a hot topic. Those who make it their business to produce one are like football managers who boast of their club’s youth policy. By the time it is fair to judge the results of their work, they will be long gone.

It is a task that can be done only retrospectively. Gerry McCartney, a public health consultant with NHS Scotland, has published three studies into the subject, which draw upon all available research conducted into multi-sports events since 1978. By using that evidence, which does not include London 2012, he has sought to predict the impact on Glasgow of staging the Commonwealth Games.

It is not promising. In almost every one of the relevant categories, previous Games have failed to deliver a legacy, even in economic growth, where there was an assumption that tourism, trade and assorted other spins-offs would outweigh the costs of investing in Games-related infrastructure.

“These assumptions are not robust,” says the report. “From studies examining these, the impacts on tourism (both during and after the event) and economic growth are at best unclear, and at worst negligible or even negative... there is a possibility that the Games will increase inequalities or reduce public spending on other policies and programmes.”

As for sport itself, Glasgow 2014 has vowed to “get Scotland active”, but it will not be easy. In the past, studies have found that, while Games-related initiatives have led existing participants to try new disciplines, there is limited evidence of newcomers to sport as a whole. The suspicion is that some are even turned off by watching elite athletes, who set the bar unrealistically high. There is a claim that physical activity decreased after the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. “There is little or no evidence to support the idea that hosting the 2014 Games will generate positive impacts for the health or socioeconomic determinants of health of the host population,” says the report.

None of which is to suggest that Glasgow cannot produce a legacy, only that it is unlikely to do so if it repeats the mistakes of its predecessors. McCartney’s work says in its conclusion, “if you do what you always did, you will get what you always got”, by which he means nothing.

Paul Zealey, the Head of Engagement and Legacy at Glasgow 2014, acknowledges the point. He admits that benefits have been limited in the past, but insists that the organising committee have taken on board recommendations by McCartney and others. Glasgow, he says, will be different.

He claims that legacy was at the heart of its bid from the start. Glasgow, he says, is already bucking the national trend with a mini economic boom. He also insists that the proposed increase in physical activity outlined in the legacy plan is a more subtle ambition than many like to make out.

“We are not, as other Games have done, promising that X million people will get into sport,” says Zealey. “That’s not necessarily realistic. The Wimbledon effect is that people take up tennis for two weeks after Andy Murray’s win and not thereafter. What we want is a sensible look at health and well-being, how small changes in patterns and behaviour can make a difference.”

He says that there is tangible evidence of the legacy in Glasgow’s east end where the athletes village, the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome and, amongst other things, the Tollcross International Swimming Centre, demonstrate regeneration in one of Britain’s poorest areas.

He also points out that Glasgow 2014 cannot be accused of building white elephants. While the Emirates Arena may struggle in the long term to fill its capacity regularly, the opening and closing ceremonies will be held in existing stadia – Celtic Park and Hampden Park – and most of the venues are public facilities.

“It reassures me that, when the Commonwealth Games Federation, a group of peers who have run international multi-sports Games for many years, came to look at Glasgow, they described its legacy plan as a blueprint for future bidding cities. We get criticism in our own backyard but, in Canada, Australia and countries that are preparing to bid, they are talking about the Glasgow model.”

Whether they are talking about it in a decade’s time remains to be seen. Many of those with an interest in the Games privately express frustration with Glasgow 2014, a body comprising officials parachuted in from an alien environment to do a job for which they will not be accountable in the long term.

Zealey, of course, is keen to dispute that notion. “We are committed to a long-term publication of the impact of these Games. It will all be in the public domain. Long after the organising committee has gone, you will see the evidence of whether we were or weren’t successful in our ambitions for a lasting legacy. And all the indications are that, with a year to go, we are in a very good place.”