By Manish Desai : There is an air of excitement in Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, as it plays host to the 20th Commonwealth Games. Organizers are eager to play down comparisons with London’s hosting of the Olympic Games in 2012 and put on a world-class event of their own. This is the third time the Commonwealth Games are being held in Scotland, after 1970 and 1986 when the games were held in the capital Edinburgh. The games has united the 2.3 million strong residents of Glasgow, under the mascot Clyde, ever since they won the bid in 2007 beating the Nigerian city of Abuja. Glasgow gave an indication of things to come by putting out an impressive show at the closing ceremony of the 19th Commonwealth Games, four years ago in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
The Opening Ceremony was held at Celtic Park, Glasgow. Queen Elizabeth II read out the message written on the Queen’s Baton which has travelled to 71 nations and territories of the Commonwealth in a relay for 248 days, before declaring the Games open.
The opening ceremony featured a parade around Celtic Park by thousands of athletes taking part in the Games. India, as the previous host, led the parade, which ended with the current host, Scotland. The centrepiece of the opening ceremony a live show consisting of about 2,000 people. The Opening Ceremony also featured a near 100 metre wide and 11m high LED screen erected in front of the South Stand at Celtic Park to broadcast images of the night. In 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games the Aerostat was the showpiece during the opening and closing ceremonies.
India’s cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar was present but only through a video message during the ceremony in his capacity as the Global Goodwill Ambassador of the UNICEF, which has partnered with the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in a first-of-its-kind initiative to spread awareness about problems being faced by children all over the world.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and his cabinet colleagues, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and his colleagues in the government and other dignitaries from Commonwealth nations also attended the inaugural ceremony.
More than 6,500 athletes from 71 Commonwealth nations and independent states would contest in the 11 day sporting spectacle. There would be 261 medal events in 17 sports. There were 21 sports events in the previous edition of the games held in 2010.
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is the biggest name at the Glasgow games, but he will only compete in 4×100-metre relay. British long distance runner Mo Farah, who won both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the London Olympics in 2012, is scheduled to run in both events.
Hosts Scotland have made pretty good preparations to put up a solid show and better their medal tally. England too is optimistic and will vie for the top spot or the second. New Zealand will concentrate on Rugby, while India, the largest country in the Commonwealth, will be expecting a lion’s share of medals from shooters, boxers, wrestlers and shutters. Khumukcham Sanjita and Mirabai Saikhom, the Manipur girls gave India Gold and Silver on Day one Women’s 48kg weight lifting event.
India in the Commonwealth Games
This time around India has a sizeable contingent of 224 athletes competing in 14 disciplines. The shooting team comprises an Olympic champion in Abhinav Bindra and two Olympic medallists in Gagan Narang and Vijay Kumar. In badminton, with defending champion Saina Nehwal skipping the event, India will be pinning its hopes on PV Sindhu, P Kashyap and the pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa to repeat their success.
India had a great outing in the track and field in 2010 with discus thrower Krishna Poonia winning the first gold medal in athletics for India in 52 years since Milkha Singh’s triumph at the 1958 Cardiff Games. This time also the focus will be on Krishna and fellow discus thrower Vikas Gowda, who finished an impressive eighth in the London Games.
The men’s hockey team will be looking to salvage some pride after their disappointing show at the World Cup. The men’s squad settled for the silver in Delhi but also had to endure the Brazil type ignominy of a 0-8 loss against Australia in the final.
The Indian contingent had finished second in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. The 101 medals overall in that edition was a record that the country would hope to better. But it would be hard to replicate the unprecedented success achieved at home in this edition, especially after the scrapping of archery and tennis and the reduction in the number of medal events in shooting and wrestling. Therefore the most realistic target for India would be a third-place finish with the top spot expected to go either to Australia or England.
Whither Commonwealth Games
The Commonwealth Games have more history than most other games. Glasgow is hosting the 20th edition, after it was first staged in 1930 in Hamilton, Canada. It was called the British Empire Games until 1950, then the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, then the British Commonwealth Games and, since 1978, simply the Commonwealth Games.
Even as the Games press on into the 21st century, debate continues about their relevance. Whether it is worth the expense and trouble to carry on with the colonial legacy, when more geo-politically coherent forums like Asian Games, African Games have emerged.
As usual, the Commonwealth Games suffer from a lack of star power. The three nations who won the most medals at the last Summer Olympics, in 2012 in London – the United States, China and Russia – do not participate in the Commonwealth version.
Yet, the games continue, often providing a fine spring-board to higher altitudes for young athletes.