Michael Kelly: Golden opportunity for a lasting legacy

Glasgow Commonwealth Games mascot Clyde. Picture: PA
Glasgow Commonwealth Games mascot Clyde. Picture: PA
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THE actual events are low down the list of priorities for the 2014 Glasgow Games, writes Michael Kelly

Hold me back. I just can’t wait for 2014. Not for the referendum, silly. The result of that boring contest is already in the bag. I am talking about the excitement and uncertainty of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games. It is essential for the reputation of the city and the country that they are successful. The standard for pulling off international sporting events is always high. So much, from terrorists attacks to the quality of food in the athletes’ village, can go wrong.

Look at the pre-publicity for the recent London Games. They were going to be ruined by transport strikes, congestion at border controls, overcrowding in the city and bad weather. In the event, none of these problems arose and the Games were an overwhelming triumph – so much so that they have significantly raised the bar for Glasgow. Although the two events cannot be compared in terms of budgets or the number and quality of participants, the fresh memory of London is going to subject every detail of 2014 to intense scrutiny. So, Glasgow’s first priority must be run our Games properly.

The fact that the constructions of the venues has being completed ahead of schedule is old news. The incredibly fast response to the appeal for Games volunteers shows the grass roots support these efforts have.

In terms of legacy – a essential prerequisite to winning any games bid – economic impact has already been generated through the creation of the Athletes’ Village, which will become an eco-friendly neighbourhood for the city after the Games. The new Hydro arena at the SECC looks impressive. The delivery of the Clyde Gateway route linking the M74 extension with the heart of the East End is already providing social as well as economic benefits to sports lovers – in particular Celtic fans, who now find access and egress from their ground which will be used for the opening ceremony even more satisfying. On the employment and training front, 353 new apprentices are already in place on Games-related projects (exceeding the target of 329). More are to come. The Commonwealth Apprenticeship Initiative has delivered places for about 2,500 school-leavers, and the Commonwealth Jobs Fund has placed more than 300 people in jobs.

There will be a legacy of a better skilled workforce. To provide the work for these new employees, the Glasgow Business Portal, the only way businesses and organisations can win Games-related contracts, has ensured that 4,500 Glasgow-based business and organisations have enjoyed a very high share of the value of Games-related contracts so far.

So, it seems rather picky of Holyrood’s health and sports committee to report that the sporting legacy of the Games is at risk, as it did yesterday. As far as I am concerned, this is the lowest of priorities. Although this is a sporting event, the spin-off in terms of investment, income and employment, plus the revamping of Glasgow’s infrastructure, are far more important to a city with enormous challenges of poverty and unemployment.

Not that health isn’t part of the deprivation equation and that exercise is not a factor in bad health, but it is ambitious to believe that the Games will trigger improvement. Sure they will act as a focus and a short-term incentive. But the vital change will only be brought about by changing adults’, in particular parents’, attitude to fitness. God’s knows how many exhortations we have had with that objective. You don’t need a sports centre or a coach to jog.

So, while accessible leisure facilities are important, as are qualified coaches, in encouraging people to exercise, it is much more a question of the commitment of the individual and that of their parents. Many just give up after a short experience of just how arduous and time-consuming it is to be fit. If the object is to unearth more elite sports people, it is, of course, necessary to introduce a greater proportion of the young to a variety of sports, and these Games can provide local role-models. But the supply of the talented is limited, and more facilities and more coaches will not necessarily produce the goods. The present international football squad could spend all day training and still be no nearer to winning a match.

A concern that we might not have sufficient coaches to deal with the upsurge in interest in sport that the Games are likely to engender can be easily allayed. More than 10,000 people jumped at the chance to be voluntary helpers during the 11 sporting days the Games will run. The London Games-makers are still so taken with the thrill they got from helping that most of them want to convert their participation into long-term volunteering. It should easily be possible to select from them Scots who are interested in coaching, as well as training new Glasgow volunteers.

As for facilities, many sports administrators will say that it is the upkeep, not the provision, of them that must be addressed. They say that the best-run facilities are those directly under the strict control of local authorities or those run as private clubs. Community sports centres often lack the administrative skills to stay afloat, and many lie neglected.

Private clubs – covering rugby, football, golf, tennis and hockey among many others – provide the best of facilities and coaching. One club in Glasgow has 75 coaches for its 700 members. These clubs are well run, but operate on very tight budgets. Many have to seek public money to expand. Often, they find that difficult because of funding bodies’ insistence that they admit anyone who applies. Most clubs will not do that as they wish to be recruit only members who will respect the facilities and culture of the club. A less politically correct attitude on behalf of the authorities would quickly bring a series of well-run facilities on line. And ensure that social as well as sporting standards were inculcated.

The Glasgow Games are in good shape to provide both an excellent spectacle and an important legacy. I am told that there was a radio phone-in during the dog days of the old year to determine which city the folk in the provinces thought to be the UK’s second. After Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh had all received support, it was the turn of a wee Glasgow man to make his contribution: “As far as I am concerned, pal, London is the second city.” There are still many things that could go wrong before a race has begun, but it is that kind of pride that will ensure the Glasgow Games work for Scotland.