THE Commonwealth Games have never been apolitical, and medals might never be more tightly entwined with votes than when Glasgow hosts the great gala eight weeks before Scotland’s independence referendum next year.
It should suit Imogen Bankier down to the ground, then. The Glasgow badminton player has just finished reading politics & social science at the Open University, and would like to find a way to combine politics and sport in whatever she does when she hangs up her racquet. The trouble is, there is only a limited amount that she can say on the merits or otherwise of an independent Scotland, because Bankier could conceivably be a poster girl for either side.
She was, until recently, based in Milton Keynes with the British team, reaping the benefits of the union in the same way Sir Chris Hoy did throughout his career in Manchester, and now she is back home, proving that the same goals can be set and achieved out of the smaller of the two big yards in this neighbourhood – and enjoying every minute of it.
The impressive Bankier, daughter of Celtic chairman and whisky millionaire Ian, entered the Independence debate last month when she told the BBC that publicly-funded sportspeople in Scotland would suffer if denied the option of tapping into the richer GB structure. She then sought to crystallise her point on Twitter: “It is absolutely possible to be a proud Scot and a proud Brit…I am one of these people.”
Now that she sees the sensitivity of her position, the 25-year-old is rather more reluctant to pin her colours to the mast, saying instead: “I just wish we could have this debate with the help of some concrete information about what independence would entail, and not just vote for it because we have seen Braveheart.”
One can imagine that Bankier’s sporting career has as much to do with power, collaboration and diplomacy as the essays she submitted to attain her degree, because she is a doubles player. Not once since the age of 16 has she taken to the court without entrusting 50 per cent of the influence on the outcome of a match on the person she is, temporarily, playing with.
“Yeah, it’s horrible,” she states as we talk above the sound of shuttles whistling through the air at Scotstoun’s National Academy. “It is an interesting situation because it is completely out of your control what somebody else is doing. Your partner could walk off the kerb the wrong way and, God forbid, break their ankle. You are relying on somebody else, but that’s why I like to have two events. I want to establish myself as a good ladies and mixed doubles player so I’ll always have options, whereas before I have primarily just been playing mixed.
“So that’s a new challenge for me but, at the same time, although you are relying on somebody else, it’s good to share it all with somebody else. I think the singles court can be quite a lonely place if things aren’t going so well.”
Having moved south, then back north, Bankier has created a number of alliances but none so successful as her link-up with Chris Adcock that brought a mixed-doubles silver medal at the 2011 World Championships. Today she is very excited about her new venture with Robert Blair, who fully severed his links with Scotland to play for England a number of years ago, but is now back in blue. Bankier hopes team chiefs will soon settle on a ladies’ doubles partner for her, too.
Back in 2007, when your columnist first clapped eyes on the pony-tailed blonde, she was playing in partnership with a High School of Glasgow fellow, Watson Briggs. It was the Sudirman Cup, which serves every year to identify the world’s strongest national team, and Scotland did pretty well, winning two of their three group matches to set up a play-off for 19th place against the USA, which they also won.
Scottish badminton has come a significant distance since then. This year the Scots were 13th in the Sudirman Cup and, unlike smaller niche sports, the Glasgow Games that is bearing down on us will not make or break its mission to emerge from obscurity in this country. There is a greater depth of elite players now, the European Championships are also coming to Glasgow next year and next month’s Scottish Grand Prix will be laden with world-class talent.
It all adds up to Bankier, taking on the world from her native West End, being very content with the career-defining decision she made last year, her Olympic dreams having been dashed during the first phase of competition in London.
“I think when I left the GB programme it was such a big decision for me, and it was something that I had been brewing over for such a long time. It was quite a stressful period and I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” she says. “But being back here and the way things have worked out with partners and what I’ve got up here with training, I’ve got a second wind really.
“I’ve started re-enjoying it all over again. Obviously we’re all focusing on the Commonwealth Games now but, for me, I don’t want it to end at the Commonwealth Games. I’m 25 and I feel like I’ve still got a lot to give.”