The London Olympics start next week. I’ll be watching them on the telly. Just like I did the Olympics in Beijing, Athens, Sydney, Atlanta, Barcelona and all the other ones right back to Rome in 1960.
There will be unforgettable moments for sure. The Rome Games stand out for me because they provided me with one of my earliest sporting memories: the dramatic emergence from the evening darkness of the marathon winner, the barefooted Ethiopian Abebe Bikila.
I hope to witness more great sporting moments like that. But to be honest, the Games won’t have any special emotional meaning for me just because they’re located in London. The British dimension doesn’t work for me. Despite their geographical proximity, I don’t feel any more inclined to attend the events in the London Olympics than I did for those staged in Beijing.
I don’t in any way begrudge Londoners their Olympics. I hope they and their visitors have a great time and that we all see some exceptional sport. But I don’t see the London Olympics as a UK-wide event despite all the desperate Union-Jacking surrounding them.
It will be Londoners almost entirely who will benefit from the £10 billion spent on the Games. Ditto for the sporting and other capital infrastructure left behind afterwards. The trickle effects of this expenditure will have long dried up before they get anywhere near Scotland.
Our country’s benefits will be restricted to deserving individuals carrying £250 souvenir torches around the land and the hosting of a few football games at the preliminary group stage. But, sorry, I don’t think I’ll be putting Egypt v Belarus at Hampden on 1 August as a must-see fixture in my diary.
Actually, Hampden isn’t even a venue for any of the men’s quarter final ties – though Cardiff, Manchester and Newcastle are. In fact, Coventry City gets the same allocation of games as Scotland’s national stadium! This distribution of football matches neatly symbolises the geographical impact of the London Games. It’s almost zero by the time it gets to the Scottish border.
Does it matter? Not for me - in a sporting sense anyway. Economically though, the 2012 Olympics are just another example of the malign way London soaks up most of the capital investment and human endeavour in the UK.
However, in sporting terms, I’ve never felt much emotional identification with competitors, even Scots, wearing a British vest.
There’s always been something about the Scottish members of the squad being granted temporary, honorary English status for the duration of the Games. The sporting commentators try harder than ever nowadays, but I’ll be surprised if we get through the Games without a few references to the “English team”, “English bulldog spirit” etc.
Maybe I’m overly sensitive or just cynical – perhaps worn down by too many summer holidays in Olympic years explaining to bemused foreigners that “Angleterre”, “Anglia”, “Ingleterra” aren’t accurate translations of “Great Britain”.
That’s why the Commonwealth Games are such a refreshing relief and, for me anyway, much more emotionally engaging from a Scottish point of view than the Olympics. There’s just something magical about someone in a blue vest winning a medal or the St Andrew’s Cross fluttering on a flag pole at a presentation ceremony.
Though many of them also won gold for the UK, it’s their triumphs for Scotland which stand out for me when anyone mentions the likes of Liz McColgan, Chris Hoy, Alan Wells and the great Dick McTaggart – perhaps, pound for pound, as good a boxer as the recently deceased Cuban, Teofilo Stevenson.
As for marathons, even more memorable for me than Bikila’s win in Rome was Jim Alder’s triumph at the 1966 Jamaican Commonwealth Games – despite losing the lead with only 500 yards to go after officials misdirected him at the entrance to the athletics stadium. No, for me, there’s something special about Scots competing for Scotland that the Olympics will never match.
That’s why in 2014 I will be buying tickets and making the effort to travel to see some of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
As for the 2012 Olympics, I hope the Londoners enjoy their Games and that they are a big success for them. But if something else turns up – like a day trip to Saltcoats or a night out at the bingo, for example - I might not even bother turning on the telly.
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