Glasgow enters the final straight

From Richard Bath, Scotland on Sunday
Decision day is almost upon us. Three years and nine months after Glasgow’s bid for the 2014 Commonwealth Games was unveiled, the head of the Games Committee will deliver, from Colombo, Sri Lanka on Friday the verdict of the 71 delegates who have been comprehensively wined, dined and schmoozed in a campaign that has been as slick and impressive as the Euro 2008 bid was farcical and embarrassing.

For many pundits, the race is as good as won and the 2014 Games all but secured for Scotland’s biggest city. Certainly, Glasgow is the red-hot favourite and the only remaining rival, the Nigerian capital of Abuja, is desperately playing catch-up.

Just how confident Glasgow is of winning will become apparent when First Minister Alex Salmond, Glasgow Council high heid yin Bridget O’Connell and Uncle Tom Cobbley fly out from Glasgow Airport at the head of a delegation of the 46 assorted worthies and sports administrators who all apparently need to be in Colombo to witness the denouement at first hand.

Not that the people who have been at the sharp end of the bid are taking anything for granted. “We’ve taken every opportunity that has presented itself to build up our reputation with the people who will be voting,” said Glasgow 2014’s Rob Shorthouse, “and that includes hosting 69 of the 71 delegates in Glasgow and visiting 67 of them.

“We’ve spent two years doing all we can to build those relationships, but we’ve also got to remember that they’re human beings and that this is a secret ballot. That means that we’ll be doing everything we can right up to the last possible minute.”

That is a wise course of action. Announcement days for major sporting events are littered with shock triumphs from dark horse nations that were given little chance by over-confident favourites. Think about Athens getting pipped to the 2000 Olympic post by Sydney, or the desolation of the Parisian delegation beaten into second place as Seb Coe’s London 2012 campaign kept going right to the bitter end, furiously lobbying until minutes before the vote.

More importantly, look at Delhi, which is due to host the Commonwealth Games in 2010. It was the rank outsider until the eve of the vote when, out of the blue, it unveiled a multi-million pound “support” package that carried the day. Hamilton, Ontario, the long-term front-runner which had received a faultless testimonial from the CG inspectors, was stunned. Bitter and frustrated, Hamiltonians cried foul and screamed that the Indians had “bought” the Games. It was too late.

None of those lessons have been lost on a Glasgow bid team that will “use every minute of every day and never take its foot off the gas”, according to the chair of the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland, Louise Martin. Not that a repeat of that sordid affair is likely. After Delhi’s blatant bribery, strict rules were brought in to prevent a reccurrence.

Even so, there is still some scope for inducement. Glasgow’s bid itself accords visiting teams a cash allocation based on the number of competitors, but oil-rich Abuja is dangling a package worth on average £15,000 more per nation. Not only that, but under Abuja’s bid bigger nations such as Australia and Canada, which are likely to vote for Glasgow anyway, will receive the same flat fee of £62,500 as nations with tiny representations, such as Vanuatu, Montserrat, Niue, Norfolk Island and the Republic of Kiribati. Each of the 71 nations and territories receives just one vote.

Sean Connery on a non-secret mission
Glasgow has relied on the excellence of its bid to defeat such tactics. In particular, Martin, the bid chairwoman and an administrator so respected she has just been voted in unopposed for a third term as Honorary Secretary of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), worked tirelessly to visit virtually every delegate to communicate those strengths.

Glasgow hasn’t been beyond the odd gimmick where necessary, though. Chief among these was the decision to send each delegate a personalised letter from Sean Connery which, among other things, promised tailored television coverage. That may seem insignificant, but it addressed a serious concern among smaller nations after Papua New Guinean swimmer Ryan Pini won an unexpected gold in Melbourne in 2006 only for the coverage of the medal ceremony to exclude him, showing instead the moment that the Aussie silver-medallist was awarded his gong.

Glasgow has also had the odd touch of luck. A crucial group of Caribbean delegates, for instance, was on a tour of the city on the day James McFadden’s goal saw Scotland defeat France in Paris. Watching on television in the centre of Glasgow, the delegates were astonished by the city’s reaction. “Your supporters are fanatics,” said the British Virgin Islands delegate Dean Greenaway. “People in Glasgow just have a passion for sport.”

That Caribbean visit was particularly important given the emotive “Africa issue”. The games have been running since 1930 but no country from the world’s poorest continent has ever been host. The bid team for the Nigerian capital has made much of that fact, but several of the 18 African delegates have gone out of their way to try to scotch rumours of a pan-African and Caribbean stitch-up.

“I would love Africa to have the Games but we must have the quality,” said Uganda’s Major General Francis Nyangweso on his visit to Glasgow. “We must think of the athletes, we must not give our athletes a disadvantageous situation where they do not have the facilities that will make them perform to their best. As far as I’m concerned, Africa may not be ready by now.”

For delegates still inclined to give the developing world’s candidate a chance – Abuja was only a year old when Allan Wells won gold in the 200m in Edmonton in 1978 – the news coming out of Delhi last month may have provided pause for thought. With less than three years to go to the 2010 Games, preparations are so far behind that CGF’s New Zealand chief executive Mike Hooper is spending three weeks each month in India to ensure the project is completed in time. With the athletes’ village not yet started and the old main stadium yet to be demolished, a state of controlled panic grips the CGF.

When the CGF’s four-man Evaluation Committee published its 130-page report in September, no talent for reading between the lines was required to grasp the concern felt at the state of the Abuja bid.

“Many of Abuja’s venues will require substantial upgrading while others are yet to be built,” said the report. “In general, there appears to be a lack of detailed planning and some significant matters requiring amendment regarding the overall programme and Games scheduling… one can only conclude that Abuja’s accommodation inventory is not properly secured.”

That verdict was in stark contrast to the glowing references to a Glasgow bid that “has demonstrated the ability to stage the Commonwealth Games to a standard which would continue to enhance the image and prestige of the Games, delivering appropriate services to all constituents and stakeholders with minimum risk of failure”. If an adherence to the criteria laid down by the CGF guidelines were the only consideration in delegates’ minds in Sri Lanka, Glasgow would already have won the Games.

As it is, two factors are likely to weigh heavily in the minds of delegates. The first is that 70% of Glasgow’s infrastructure is already in place and that the cash is demonstrably there in order to complete the remaining 30%. The other is what is referred to as “legacy”, which is partly to do with making sure the Games don’t spawn any embarrassing white elephants and partly to do with long-term regeneration.

Glasgow seems bulletproof on both counts. The athletes’ village at Dalmarnock in the East End will become 1100 units of high-quality social housing, and the Games could yet lead to a self-financing extension of the subway train system. All the new venues have been designed with community use in mind.

“The physical legacy is new venues that have been designed for day-to-day use by the community, but just as important is that the Games should be a catalyst for change because they will have an impact on people’s health and well-being and be a driver for change,” says Shorthouse.

Crucially, the cost of Games-led regeneration is one that parties of all political hues seem willing to shoulder. Sponsorship and ticket sales would repay £50m of the £348m total budget, with £297m coming from the public purse. PMP Consulting suggested the Glasgow economy would receive a £21m boost during the Games, and Scotland’s economy an £81m fillip.

Money aside, there’s another final reason why all Scotland has cause to wish Glasgow well on November 9. The last time this nation hosted the Commonwealth Games was in 1986, when Edinburgh was boycotted by 32 nations protesting against apartheid. The situation was so bad that the event had to be bailed out by none other than Robert Maxwell.

What better way for Alex Salmond and the SNP to showcase a new, confident nation than to pull off the next Scottish Commonwealth Games without a hitch?

This is an edited version of an article first published in Scotland on Sunday. To read the article in full, click here

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