When Edinburgh was the world at Commonwealth Games 1970

It was when the world came to Edinburgh, and Edinburgh became the world.

Ian Stewart collects gold from Princess Anne after  winning the Commonwealth Games 5,000 metres title and setting a new European record. He defeated world record holder Ron Clarke, Olympic 1,500 metres champion Kip Keino and fellow Scot, Ian McCafferty to win the race.
Ian Stewart collects gold from Princess Anne after winning the Commonwealth Games 5,000 metres title and setting a new European record. He defeated world record holder Ron Clarke, Olympic 1,500 metres champion Kip Keino and fellow Scot, Ian McCafferty to win the race.

Fifty years ago today, the 1970 Commonwealth Games opened at Meadowbank Stadium in a show of tartan and pageantry with the event creating a new wave of national heroes, a new class of sporting facilities and a new generation of sporty youngsters captivated by this carnival of sport on their doorstep.

More than 2,000 athletes from 41 nations were welcomed to the city with competitors changing the face of the capital, for nine days at least. Sporting stars at the top of the game rode on buses, played table tennis with fans and performed calypso gigs in the street.

Sign up to our History and Heritage newsletter

Autograph hunters, young and old, congregated around Pollock Halls of residence, the home of the Games Village as the buzz took hold.

The opening ceremony of the 1970 Commonwealth Games at Meadowbank Stadium.

Athletes such as Kenya’s Kip Keino were in hot pursuit, as was Scotland’s Lachie Stewart, who celebrated his stunning 10,000 metre gold clutching the team’s unofficial team mascot, a giant teddy bear called Dunky Dick, in what became one of the enduring images of the ‘Friendly Games’.

Read More

Read More
Scottish Commonwealth Games kits throughout the years

"It felt like Edinburgh was the centre of the world,” recalled Ian Millar, a professional musician who was 10 at the time of the games and whose flat overlooked the new Royal Commonwealth Pool and the heart of the action.

HARD FOUGHT

Athletes and officials dine at the Athlete's Village at Pollock Halls.

Edinburgh’s bid to stage the 1970 event was hard fought. The city had, since 1936, tried to secure the games with informal lobbying giving way to serious effort in 1956 when Scotland sent a delegation to the British Commonwealth Games Federation General Assembly in Melbourne.

Further pitches in Cardiff, Rome, Perth in Australia and Tokyo, which was visited in 1964, followed . The bid to host the 1966 games was lost to Jamaica but Edinburgh’s subsequent shot at hosting the 1970 event was won.

By January 1970, the Royal Commonwealth Pool was opened by Princess Anne – and then swiftly closed again for final checks – and the box office started to do business.

First in the queue for tickets was Archer Wilson of West Calder, who was there hours early to buy 16 tickets for athletics events.

The new Royal Commonwealth Pool was a centrepiece of the Games.

A GAMES OF FIRSTS

The Edinburgh event was one of many firsts. The opening ceremony, held on a typically cloudy July day, was the first to be broadcast on colour television across the Commonwealth.

It was also the first to be attended by the Queen, who handed out a number of medals in her capacity as Head of the Commonwealth.

On the track and field, the games were the very first to use metric measurements, to bring the contests in line with their Olympic counterparts, and the first to use electronic photo-finish technology.

Ian Stewart was one of six gold medallists for Scotland at those Games, leading home a Scottish 1-2 in the 5,000m, as team mate Ian McCafferty took silver ahead of reigning Olympic 1500m Champion Kip Keino and Australia’s world record holder Ron Clarke.

It was the atmosphere of the home Games, Stewart says, that made the difference.

He said: “It was quite an occasion for us all. Lachie (Stewart) won the 10,000m, so we won the 5,000m and the 10,000m and I think if you’d said that before the Games everyone would have looked at you and laughed.

"Having the Scotland crowd behind you in a place like Edinburgh was phenomenal, a crowd like that could be worth 10 metres, and it could be 10 metres you win by.

“I remember crossing the line and turning round and asking Ian (McCafferty) ‘where did you finish?’ and he said ‘second’.

" I thought it was Kip Keino chasing me down the home straight because I never looked behind at all. I could hear he was coming at me and of course the crowd was going absolutely nuts and the noise was phenomenal.

“For Scotland, for us to have one and two and the second and third fastest times in the World at that time, only Ron Clarke had ever run faster, I was quite shocked when I saw the time. It was a fantastic thing to do in Scotland, one of those special moments.”

EMOTIONAL TIMES

Moira Walls was just 18 when she entered Meadowbank Stadium to compete in the long jump, high jump and pentathlon in July 1970. She is still the only Scots woman to have taken a medal in the Commonwealth jumping competitions. Now Moira Maguire, she took bronze in the high jump and remembers clearly the atmosphere of the crowd.

"It doesn’t feel like 50 years ago,” she said. “My mum and dad and sister were in the crowd so it all felt quite emotional. And my medal was presented by the Queen. That was really quite something.”

She also recalled the atmosphere of the Games Village at Pollock Halls where the Scotland team shared Holland House with Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Bahamas. Each evening, Scottish country dancing and folk music were put on for residents, with all competitors given a sprig of lucky white heather.

Now Ms Maguire, of Currie, she added: “The games village was great fun. You would walk around and there were all these famous athletes who you really looked up to. And I remember the food, you could eat anything you wanted, day or night.”

THREATS

Despite the success of the games, the event came under threat given political pressure to call off the British South African cricket tour of white-only players. First, Kenya called for a boycott of the games and then Guyana and India followed..

By the time Meadowbank and the Games Centre opened in early May, 13 countries were committed to a boycott if the cricket tour went ahead.

Scottish Nationalists tried to explain Scotland's separate identity but the South African Non-Racial Committee said they saw no distinction from England.

"The choice for British sport lies between the Commonwealth Games and the white South African tour," said Peter Hain, of the Stop the 70 Tour, that April.

As the mood tainted and hotel rooms remained empty given the controversy, Sir Herbert Brechin, the former Lord Provost of Edinburgh and chairman of the games, travelled to London to talk out matters with the MCC later calling off the South African tour following government pressure.

It was a case of Games On.

Dame Louise Martin DBE, president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, recognised the difficulties in getting the event to Edinburgh.

She said: “Scotland has made a huge contribution to the Commonwealth Sports Movement and it is a special moment to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Edinburgh 1970.

“It marked the first time ever that the Games were held in Scotland before they returned to the city of Edinburgh in 1986 during a difficult period of political sporting boycotts. Had

Edinburgh not hosted the 1986 event, there may be no Commonwealth Games today."

A message from the Editor:Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.Subscribe to scotsman.com and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions now to sign up.

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Joy Yates

Editorial Director