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Why I believe Games briefing is self-serving

THE politicising of Glasgow 2014 continues apace.

Last week, the Scottish Parliament's Information Centre delivered a 113-page briefing document entitled Commonwealth Scotland. It details "how key aspects of Scotland's environment, economy and society have changed" since the previous Games in Scotland, in Edinburgh in 1970 and 1986.

We are informed that infant mortality has fallen dramatically, that life expectancy is increasing, and that there are fewer road casualties despite almost 100,000 more vehicles on Scotland's roads. The relevance to the 2014 Games is beyond me. These are no-brainer statements, summarising details of which the great mass of Scotland's population must already be aware.

Did you know that river water quality has vastly improved? That more people travel by train? That single occupancy of houses has soared? That average household income has risen in real terms? That the gender pay-gap has narrowed, that unemployment, crime, and North Sea oil production are all falling?

There is a raft of such data, under-pinned, for example, with a graph on improved median oxygen saturation in river water. What place all this has in the context of the Games beats me. Under the heading "Dignity" there is a preening piece on regeneration in the East End. It reminds us that it is bankrolled by Scottish Government funding, with bullish statements about legacy and the creation of 20,000 jobs by 2028. It is self-serving and undignified.

The foreword to the document, from Tricia Marwick, the Scottish Parliament presiding officer, reminds us this institution did not exist in 1970 or '86, but suggests that when Scotland next hosts the Commonwealth event we can consider its progress.

The presentation of all the data is a clear (if unstated) invitation to apply such consideration now. In short, it is using the Commonwealth Games as a party political "state of the nation" address.

I believe this to be wholly wrong. I suggested that the laudable wish of former First Minister Jack McConnell to initiate some kind of purdah which keep politics out of 2014 was a non-starter. He was damningly prescient, and the extent to which the Games are now being used to beat the drum of referendum ideology is depressing.

Several sportsmen and women whom we have interviewed have remarked on it. Yes, we applaud the fact that the Games are proving a catalyst for regeneration, but not the predictable manner in which Ms Marwick reminds us of that.

We certainly applaud the fact that there are 22 para-sports events and that the medals will be recorded as part of the full medal table. This is the greatest representation ever for elite athletes with a disability, and it is fitting that this should occur in the city where the European Special Olympics broke the mould for young people with learning difficulties.

However, what any of the document's content (other than the 12 pages on the Commonwealth Games themselves) has to do with the 2014 sports event baffles me.

Also of disturbing concern is that the data this document presents on the Games themselves is confusing at best, and at worst, wrong.

A section in the Scottish Parliament briefing is headed: 'Records set at the Games'. It lists just six in 1970 (in athletics, cycling and weightlifting). Yet I reported a slew of records in athletics and swimming from Edinburgh that year. Every track discipline was won in a Games record, because events had switched from linear to metric for the first time. The women's 400m metres, won by 17-year-old Marilyn Neufville, was particularly noteworthy: a world best - not just the first on Meadowbank's track, but the first world mark in an Olympic event by a Jamaican woman.

Yet the Scottish Parliament document ignores it and all the other 1970 track and field marks.

I checked the press briefing's 1986 data. It lists 17 records set, including 14 in rowing. But the official Commonwealth Games history lists six men's athletics records and eight by women. Yet only two (men's 30k walk and men's 800m) are mentioned in the document.

In swimming, 20 Games records were established, two in cycling, seven in weightlifting, and 12 in shooting. None of these are listed in the briefing. Why, when all are recorded in the official history?

That was commissioned by the Commonwealth Games Federation who are co-holders of the copyright, and the Scottish Government says the CGF is the source of their data.

I twice pointed out the contradictions to the government press office. They did not reply to our inquiry. I also contacted the CGF, source of the figures.

They responded immediately, stating "records are retrospectively set". They say they can track only current records, hence all previous ones being expunged.

Ignoring records set at all previous Games - especially when they have the data in their own publications - is not just misleading, it devalues knowledge of the remarkable quality of sport at so many Commonwealth Games. It has been outstanding.

Why the CGF does not capitalise on that, rather than airbrush it, defeats me. If they made more of their great Games history, they might find a sponsor for their website, generate income, and further promote the relevance of the Games. This would enhance the possibility of attracting greater TV rights fees and sponsorship. In the modern commercial world of sport they are missing a trick.

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