Glasgow 2014: Scots taste bitter blow of rejection

IF YOU haven’t heard of Aston Brown, it is probably because he has never taken part in a home Games. The selections for Glasgow 2014 announced last week by Boxing Scotland confronted Brown with the gut-wrenching realisation that he never will.

Nick de Luca trains yesterday for the Glasgow Sevens  which is a dress rehearsal for the Games. Picture: SNS/SRU
Nick de Luca trains yesterday for the Glasgow Sevens  which is a dress rehearsal for the Games. Picture: SNS/SRU

He is a full-time Scottish athlete who will not be involved in this summer’s festivities in Glasgow, and that puts him in a tiny minority.

If Brown were a swimmer, where three Scots can compete in each race in Glasgow, he would be home and dry. Even if he did judo, there would have been a persuasive case to select him alongside the rival who accrued more qualifying points than him because the criteria permits up to two competitors at each weight.

In boxing, entry in any international event has traditionally been restricted to one per nation. While professional boxing is all about personality clashes, amateur boxers usually contemplate their opponent in the next round in terms of their nationality – “I’m fighting France” or “I’m fighting Kazakhstan” – rather than giving the enemy a face. The one-per-nation format makes for ruthless domestic dogfights over who should get to represent their country, and invariably it leads to rows.

Brown appealed against his non-selection in vain. He had competed for Scotland in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and reached the quarter-finals, and was the best-performing Scot at last year’s World Championships, where he came up against the European champion in the last 16 and caused him problems.

He had felt predestined to fight in Glasgow, and as a member of the GB performance programme – one of only two Scots deemed good enough for that – he had been geared to do so. But then along came Kieran Smith, a younger middleweight who was sharper on the night in the final of the Scottish Championships and pipped Brown at the post.

Boxing is a harsh environment, unlike athletics, where Scots seem capable of achieving Commonwealth Games qualifying standards on any day that ends in the letter Y. Even in the pool, qualifying times are more exacting than they are on the track but there have been multiple opportunities to achieve them, allowing swimmers lacking in form such as London Olympian Craig Benson to creep over the line.

Poor Brown is left wondering what he did to the sport that made it turn upon him with such cruel ferocity.

It won’t offer him much consolation to know that he will have some company on the sidelines this summer. There will be one or two handy rugby players, for instance, who will be wounded by omission.

In various sports that currently exist against a Team Scotland/Glasgow 2014 backdrop, it has been a busy week.

The gymnasts spent the weekend in their version of last-chance saloon in Perth. Medal hopefuls Sally Conway (judo), Imogen Bankier, Robert Blair and Kirsty Gilmour (badminton) were competing in European Championships and the male and female hockey players were busy with international round-robins at Glasgow Green.

This weekend, it will be the turn of rugby sevens and this is one sport where selection for the Commonwealth Games is acutely competitive.

It was busy enough in the full-time, specialist Sevens squad before Stephen Gemmell, the coach, received permission to add talent from the 15-a-side ranks this week. Scottish Rugby clearly wants Gemmell’s team to do better in this weekend’s Emirates Airline Glasgow 7s than they did in the winter HSBC series because Nick de Luca has been seconded from Edinburgh Rugby and Richie Vernon from Glasgow Warriors.

Andy Turnbull, Scotland’s all-time leading Sevens try scorer, could be forgiven for feeling slightly put out by this 11th-hour parachuting exercise, with the naming of Scotland’s squad for the Games only weeks away. But he is too long in the tooth to miss the bigger picture, which is that Scotland’s performance at Scotstoun this weekend and Ibrox in the summer matters more than the feats of any individual.

“I can see why some people say that it’s unfair because we train for Sevens all the time, but we have had our chances this year, we’ve had enough to show what we can do and we haven’t been all that successful, to be honest,” says Turnbull. “If we had had a great season then we would have the right to feel a bit annoyed about it, but we can’t really argue with it.

“Competition for places is obviously great for the squad. There is no hiding place and you have to be at your best in every session or you will miss out. Competition was already fierce this year but with the lads [De Luca and Vernon] being brought in it makes it even more so. Now everybody has to up their level again.”

Scotland face Australia first on Saturday, before two apparently less daunting assignments against the United States and Spain, which will determine their involvement on Sunday. It is a useful dress rehearsal for the two-day Games schedule at Ibrox, when the stakes will be higher but there will no longer be the ever-present threat of missing out on selection.

Gemmell has promised to be merciless in the task of picking those players who make the final cut, and the likes of 31-year-old Turnbull realise what they are up against. It cannot be easy for them, knowing that the powers-that-be could turn around any day and make Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg, for example, available for the Games and in one fell swoop undo their years of hard work.

“It’s a massive motivation for all of us, the Commonwealth Games, and for me personally, coming towards the last few years of my career,” says Turnbull. “Especially with the Games being at home, everybody wants to be part of it. I know I’m going to have to be at the very best of my game or I won’t get anywhere near the squad.”