Why Glasgow 2014 matters

I’ve been a big fan of the Scottish Review for a long while.  I like its spikiness.  Most of all, I like Kenneth Roy’s carmudgeonly spikiness, his refusal to blithely accept what is laid before him as news offerings. Insightful, thoughtful, necessary and often, uncomfortable.  It’s a great read.

But I disagree wholeheartedly with his dismantling of the importance of sport and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in his most recent post.

I like sport.  I like watching it, in all its forms, much more than I like doing it.  And this summer, I’ve managed to spectate at not just one, but two big events: the Tour de France and the Commonwealth Games.

Getting tickets to go and see some of Glasgow 2014 mattered.  The Games probably won’t return to our patch until I’m past it or even no longer here.  And I wanted to make sure that I got to see something big on my doorstep and to do so with my family.  I wanted, too, for my sports daft son to see what commitment and hard graft could achieve.

It all surpassed my expectations.  I managed to schlep around five Games venues and one massive cultural one (Glasgow Green) with my Women for Independence badge and Yes Scotland wristband un-noticed, unremarked and unmolested.  I didn’t make a big thing of them, they are just part of me at the moment, and neither did any of the stewards or security.  So much for heavy handedness.

And schlepping around was no bother either.  We made it out of Tollcross swim centre and back to the West end of Glasgow after just 45 minutes of waiting and travelling.  The same thing happened the following night getting from Hampden to Byres Road.  And we either walked, bussed or cycled in between times.  Those bikes for hire are a revelation.  For a few quid, Boy Wonder and I travelled from the SECC to Glasgow Green and on to Hampden with only one complaint of us daring to cycle in a cycle lane that happened also to contain pedestrians.

Then there was the sporting fare itself.  We managed – as we would – to go to four different events and see only one measly Scottish bronze medal won.  I think I’m still traumatised by the Big Yin’s college pal, Mark Tully, missing out on a bronze medal in the 50m breaststroke by one-hundredth of a second.  And worrying that someone somewhere is helping him to move on from it. But medals would just have been the icing on the cake, for being there was enough. It was amazing.  And truly amazing was to see a wonderful tapestry of largely young people, of all colours, backgrounds and abilities from all across the world, taking part and doing their best.  In our backyard. I watched in awe of them all, all that dedication, hard work and for scant reward.  It sure matters to them.

But most of all, it mattered to their families.  I erroneously assumed that they’d be well looked after, with special tickets and seating areas but sport at all levels doesn’t work like that.  The best seats, even at these Friendly Games, were reserved for the sponsors, the officials and the hingers-on.  They were often empty way into sessions.  All around us at the swimming and the wrestling especially, were competitors’ families.  Watching them through the agonies and occasionally the ecstasies of their offsprings’ efforts was a privilege indeed.

Why were they in the cheap seats with the rest of us? Because they spend a fortune – sometimes money they don’t really have – traipsing their bairns around the country (whichever country that might be) and other countries simply to enable them to compete.  And occasionally, it pays off.  At the swimming, there were the parents of an English girl who won a surprise silver medal – they were as surprised but as delighted as she was.  There were the Canadians and the Australians across from us, rushing frequently down to the barriers to squeeze the life out of their conquering heroes and heroines.  They just couldn’t stop beaming and some couldn’t stop crying.  And the South African parents who came back to their seats sporting their son’s medal, earning a cheer from everyone all around, happy to share in their joy.

Having said thanks to the workers, the Clydesiders, the competitors, the coaches, the stars and the merely happy to be theres, for me, the one huge omission is to say thank you to the families.  For doing what they do, to enable their children to compete, involving huge commitment, to put joy in their lives and ours and bringing them to Glasgow to compete.  You made it for me.

But these Games also matter to us.  They matter in terms of showing our young people that there are other things to do than wanna make it big on the football pitch.  Towards the end of the swimming, Boy Wonder turned and said, “Go on then, I’ll go back to swimming lessons.”  That there, that’s the legacy.  Because he has potential, because it is good for him and because one day, it might just be him out there, doing incredible things in a pool with thousands cheering him on.  These Games gave permission to children all over Scotland to dream and to dream big, but not without acknowledging that hard work is required.  A life lesson in two hours by a pool.

They also matter because for once, Scotland got to shine.  We got to show our ain folk and everyone else what it is like to have athletes of our own compete for their home (or chosen to be home) country.  Neil Fachie might be a gold winning Olympian and have enough medals to warrant a strong room instead of a garden shed, but winning Gold for Scotland capped them all.  Just something about getting to compete and winning for your nation and country, he said.  Standing on our own and winning: nothing wee, poor or stupid about it.

So good is our set up in fact, that some come here especially to get involved – that’s what’s happened in Judo, where we won an astonishing number of gold medals (not that we were allowed to watch them being won live on TV, of course).  People leaving their coaching and training set-ups elsewhere in the UK to come to Euan Burton and Judo Scotland because the facilities and the coaching are among the best ever.  Aye, who’d a thunk it?  Kinda dispels the suggestion that if Scotland was independent, all our world class athletes would have to leave to train elsewhere.  Listening to the bronze medal winner, Andrew Burns, say all this fairly puffed oot my chest.

And they matter, simply because we didnae make an erse of it.  In fact, we appear to have managed to put on the “best Games ever”.  Well done Glasgow and everyone involved in making it so.

Glasgow was totally buzzing for the whole 11 days: everything planned for, worked and then some.  The logistics of putting on these Games must have been terrifying but there were few hitches or glitches, despite BBC Radio Scotland’s efforts to find fault and queues in everything. The cultural festival, most of it free, which accompanied the sport, was outstanding in its own right.  (Kenneth Roy might have been more enamoured of some of that, had he bothered to leave his dookit in Ayrshire).  We brought the world to Glasgow and to Scotland and everyone had a good time.  Wee country that we are, we put on a show to rival the best of them.  Kinda gives us confidence that we can do other things too, huh?

Glasgow 2014 had something for everyone and had everyone watching, talking, visiting and participating.  The sense of achievement in every aspect was – is – palpable.  That matters too.

Every day, my neighbour and I had a Commonwealth Games chat, rounding up our favourite bits, beaming broadly at each other as we did so.

We’ve won another medal, Katie“, he said, catching me before I headed for the bus. “In the gymnastics, a gold for that boy Keatings” (that’ll be the pommel horse specialist, Mr Roy). “Aye, he was great, deserves it too, after they left him oot o’ the Olympics, don’t know what all that was about.  Still, he’s got his reward noo.  It’s been a great competition that, the men’s gymnastics.  Thought I’d only be watching it for the bowling but there you go.  And isn’t it great to see it all going so well?  Aye, look at what we can do when we get the chance tae.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, and neither could Nicola Sturgeon.




Glasgow 2014: ticketing fiasco a mess of their own making

So, here we go again. As they fire up the boilers and pump the bellows to get the ticketing website up and running, folks are poised, virtual elbows sharpened, ready to do battle for the remaining 55,000 tickets for the Commonwealth Games which are only weeks away.

But it doesn’t need to be like this. And the way in which the team organising the Games – every single senior staff member a man, by the way – has gone about ticketing has been a mess of Glasgow 2014’s own making. Worse, it threatens the success of our – because they are ours – Commonwealth Games.

There are folk like me sitting on tickets they do not need and cannot physically use because we have been told they cannot be put back in the pot. Let me explain.

I came up with a wheeze to optimise our chance of getting tickets. On the last afternoon of the ballot, my pops and I picked out sports and sessions over 2 days we wanted to try for. We would apply for more than one sport, even if they overlapped, and we’d both apply for exactly the same tickets. Our rationale was that we’d be unlikely to get everything we applied for. And even if we did, there would be a facility not to claim them or put them back. Or something.

Our applications went in right on the wire. In true family fashion. And unlike everyone else it would seem, we got lots of tickets. For a whole range of sports. We even got two lots of the same ones.

Then began a farce of emails trying to find out how to give some of them back, so others could get them. Last October, we were told that they had no plans to do this, but might do something in April.

In February, we tried again. This was the reply:

“Thank you for contacting the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Ticketing Customer Service team.

If you purchase one or more tickets those tickets may only be used by you, a family member, friend or colleague who is known to you personally. The transfer of a ticket in this manner shall not contravene the Ticketing Terms and Conditions providing the payment you receive doesn’t exceed the face value of the ticket and the family member, friend or colleague accepts the Ticketing Terms and Conditions.

You may be asked to provide the name and address and any other ID details as required, of ticket holders at any time by an official steward or employee of Glasgow 2014 or the venue owner or police officer.

Should sessions sell out, Glasgow 2014 may open an official ticket resale platform in 2014. This will be the only authorised way to buy tickets from people offering their tickets for resale.

Further details regarding ticket resale will be announced later in 2014.”

We tried again. Because they seemed to be missing the point. The tune changed and was decidedly snippy in the reply received in May:

“Thank you for contacting The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Ticketing Customer Service Team.

We are sorry to hear that you applied for too many tickets for The Games.
Our ticketing terms and conditions clearly state that once tickets have been purchased they cannot be cancelled or returned and when your application was submitted you agreed to those terms.

However, we have recently confirmed that a ticket resale programme shall be launched in June 2014, this will be the only authorised means to resell unwanted tickets.

More information regarding this resale programme shall be confirmed in the coming weeks. We would recommend that you frequently check your email and our website http://www.glasgow2014.com to ensure that you do not miss out on any updates.”

So, following months of dithering there will now be a resale programme but it’s bound to come far too late for people who will have given up trying to get tickets and made other plans for holiday time in July.

And still, Glasgow 2014 seems to not get it. We knew what we were doing. Like everyone else, we knew we were applying for more than we could use in the hope of getting some. And on the assumption, that as with other major sporting events, unwanted tickets could be put back in the pot.

But the point is that it’s not about getting our money back, but about ensuring that the stadia are full to bursting.

I don’t much care about the cost, though the pops might disagree with me on that one. I’ll happily pay more than my share if it helps the Games to be a success. But it won’t.

Because what counts in terms of success, when the events are beamed around the world, is bums on seats. And the entire ticketing fiasco risks making the Games a failure because of empty seats, particularly at the less popular sports, at which we – and presumably others – were spectacularly successful in getting tickets for.

Glasgow 2014 also doesn’t have a clue how many tickets are going to come back in, at this late stage, for resale in June. If it’s any more than say 10,000 then they’ve got another PR disaster on their hands. To add to all the other ones.

And worse, a very real risk that they cannot sell them all, that some folk just don’t bother putting their excess back and we have empty seats at all those fabulous stadia. The biggest shame of that would be for the athletes for whom this is a key moment in their careers. Who wants to be turning out, having trained for years for the moment, to no applause?

At this late stage, I won’t be bothering. After the shambles of the last couple of weeks, who’d trust them to get this bit of the ticket sale right?

I’ll go with the first advice from the Customer Services team and make them available to friends and family. Through this blog. And raise some money for good causes in the process.

Watch this space if you’re still keen to go to Glasgow2014.

Glasgow: the home of tartan, Nessie and the Proclaimers

The burd has just watched the showcase for Glasgow 2014 at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games.  And is now officially in despair.

Don’t get me wrong.  Bridget McConnell and her team did a great job with the paltry budget they were given.  The young people chosen to participate were having a ball and it all looked like great fun.

But this was a once in a lifetime shot at a global showcase.  A worldwide TV audience of 1 billion.  Feck.  ONE BILLION people!  And all we could think to offer them was a couple of pipers, tartan (with a modern twist!), the Loch Ness Monster and the Proclaimers.  Who aren’t even Glaswegian.

Promotion for the showcase at home was careful to emphasise its parsimony.  Couldn’t be seen to be wasting public money, so it was definitely done on a shoestring, as befits our current financial straits.  What a wasted opportunity.  We should have ploughed all of visitscotland’s and Eventscotland’s budget into it, and then some.  No amount of piddly marketing campaigns will ever achieve the same kind of audience reach.

It should have been about Glasgow, the city as it is now.  It should have been about Scotland, as a forward, modern, must go destination.  Like Delhi did.  The Glasgow showcase segued into a high tech laser show with souped up, electronic bangra that told the world that India was facing the future with pride and imagination.  All Scotland did was feed into outdated, traditional, fairytale notions of who we once might have been, but only in a Walter Scott novel.

Soundtrack?  How about Belle and Sebastian doing a sweet pop version of I belong to Glasgow.  Focus?  the fashion, the gallusness, the heritage, the swagger, the art, the culture.  Oh, and the people.  How about some famous Glaswegians bursting forth from the Armadillo?  Connolly, Ferguson, that’s Messrs Alex AND Craig, Gerard Butler.  A woman?  Now we’re toiling…  Oh, how about Annie Ross?  Who her you ask?  Just a global jazz phenomenon….

To inject a little fun, humour and cross-culturalism there could have been some kind of curry theme, linking Glasgow and its famous eateries with the current Games hosts.  

And running through it, snippets from Edwin Morgan’s last ever poem, written especially for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.  

This was our moment on the global stage.  Glasgow’s and Scotland’s.  And we blew it.