Glasgow hosting Commonwealth Games again is a Willy Wonka idea – Aidan Smith

City would make a great host of the games, but surely it must be someone else’s turn

For jokers who like to knock the place, the headline about Glasgow coming to the rescue of the Commonwealth Games probably required a check of the date at the top of the newspaper, just to ensure an old copy of the April Fool’s Day edition hadn’t been picked up by accident.

Especially since on the very next page there was a story about the city’s most recent, disastrous attempt at puttin’ on a show – the Willy Wonka-themed “experience” which featured very little chocolate, prompting floods of tiny tears and calls to the police – and how it’s being recreated in Los Angeles with no extra confectionery and much irony.

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Poor Glasgow. It stuck the word “immersive” on the original event’s posters, presumably unaware that this couldn’t quite apply to an echoey warehouse containing a few polystyrene props and a strip of painted cardboard representing the “chocolate river”. Considerably more than “pure imagination” was required of its young participants and the entertainment was quickly shut down.

Usain Bolt posed for a Commonwealth record number of selfies at the Glasgow Games of 2014 but the city has more urgent concerns than trying to repeat their success (Picture: Andrew O'Brien)Usain Bolt posed for a Commonwealth record number of selfies at the Glasgow Games of 2014 but the city has more urgent concerns than trying to repeat their success (Picture: Andrew O'Brien)
Usain Bolt posed for a Commonwealth record number of selfies at the Glasgow Games of 2014 but the city has more urgent concerns than trying to repeat their success (Picture: Andrew O'Brien)

‘Pure dead brilliant’

Pure ridicule rang round the world, resulting in the LA “tribute” set for April 28. So surely Glasgow’s interest in staging the sporting spectacular amounts to pure idiocy?

Not so fast. The city may have gone Wonka while attempting to celebrate Roald Dahl, only ending up looking right Charlies, but it has Commonwealth Games previous. The ones of ten years ago, at the closing ceremony at Hampden Park, were formally declared the “best ever”. And Prince Imran of Malaysia, chairman of the Commonwealth Games Federation, went further: as they might well say down Kuala Lumpur way, Glasgow 2014 had been “pure dead brilliant”.

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I had no doubt those Games would be, and I say that as an Edinburgher who, even now, can’t resist schoolboyish smirking when we finish higher in civic polls – and who probably chuckled in the lead-up when comedians proposed that Glasgow should produce a competition itinerary reflective of local character (eg, because chucked spears weren’t uncommon on those mean streets, a higher profile for the javelin event and sawn-off shotguns incorporated into the shooting programme).

Generosity of spirit

But Embra is a large town; Glesca is a proper city. Embra, forsooth, probably thinks cities uncouth, especially those where a motorway runs through. Glesca is more than happy to call itself a city – a big, swaggering one – and wonders if we have a problem with that. Glasgow felt vital and vibrant and not at all cowed by the occasion of a prestigious football showpiece when it hosted the 2002 Champions League final and the same confidence, pride and sporting appreciation were on display for the 12 days and nights of 2014.

A football-daft city embraced judo, got into table tennis and loved the weightlifting. Because of the preeminence of Celtic and Rangers, victories are always anticipated and surely after a while must seem ever so slightly boring, but Glasgow displayed its generosity of spirit in cheering for the underdogs from tiny lands in every arena, whether they were lapped, beaten up or left half-drowning.

There were some big-name call-offs and Usain Bolt’s first words upon arrival were reportedly that the city was “a bit s**t”. He was almost certainly referring to the weather – relentless “taps aff” sunshine had finally given way to a hardly unexpected July downpour – although after claiming his customary gold medal, the superstar sprinter was only too happy to pose for a Commonwealth record number of selfies in an outsized tartan tammie.

Vacant shops, rats and potholes

Unlike the ill-fated Willy’s Chocolate Experience, the Games were truly immersive and Glasgow humour was much in evidence in the messages flashed up on big screens. Typical was at the weightlifting after a Bermudan competitor, just a boy, clean-jerked something astonishing: “Cannae believe the lad’s just 15,” read the tweet. “At that age I couldnae lift two Farmfoods bags.”

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But that was then. In ten short years, the Commonwealth Games have changed and Glasgow has changed. The city isn’t at its big, swaggering best right now. Rats scuttle round unemptied bins. Vacant shops cluster like in a dancehall, forlornly waiting for suitors. And, never mind road race bikes and marathon runners, the potholes could immobilise buses. Of course none of this is unique to Glasgow, post-Covid and municipal mismanagement, but the Dear Green Place would seem to have it no less bad as any other city, and sadly much worse than many.

The Games maybe haven’t so much changed as stayed still. What’s their relevance today given the colonial origins? Also, the homophobia that exists in so many Commonwealth countries? Out of the 56 member states, 35 criminalise same-sex relations.

Commy Games Wonka-style?

Then there’s the cost factor. The most recent Games in 2022 helped bankrupt Birmingham who’d stepped in after Durban had beaten a broke Edmonton to the prize, only to have to withdraw for the same reason. The next edition two years from now needs a home because the Australian state of Victoria and other potential hosts have backed out.

The Glasgow plan – and it’s only that – would be for a downsized 2026, though presumably not reduced to Wonka levels of cut-pricedness. I’ve no doubt that once again and given a fair wind Glasgow could put on a show; the city’s natural bravado would ensure that. But some citizens will be worried about 2014 lessening in the memory by such a quick sequel; many more will feel the city has far more pressing concerns right now.

Scotland can be reckoned to have saved what we call the “Commy Games” on no less than three occasions. Prior to Glasgow, the “Friendly Games” epithet comes from Edinburgh 1970 and back in the capital 16 years later a black African boycott couldn’t stop them from happening. It must be someone else’s turn.



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