Tomorrow, Glasgow’s – indeed Scotland’s – biggest ever multi-sporting event will begin: the 2014 Commonwealth Games. As is always the case when such events take place, the city has undergone a remarkable transformation in the space of only a few years. Hampden Park has been changed from the home of Scottish football into an athletics facility, the SSE Hydro has risen like a spaceship to change the Glasgow skyline, and the much-needed regeneration of the East End has started with the arrival of the Emirates Arena and Athletes Village. Aside from sporting facilities, hosting such a large event provides an excuse for the council to commission improvements in other areas; the underground stations have substantially upgraded, from dismal concrete to modern glass, and the completion of the M74 motorway has eased the burden of the horrific lines of traffic that once swamped from the M8 to the city centre. Everything is in place for the Games to run smoothly, and to be a successful one. But, as the starting line draws nearer, now is the time to look at what Glasgow and its citizens can expect the legacy of these Games to be after the last athlete crosses the finishing line. Past host cities present differing cases of what this may be, and two recent ones – Manchester and Delhi – provide contrasting examples of the Games can do for a city and region.
The last Games to be held in the UK was in 2002, after a failed attempt to host the Olympics in 2000, and to return to Manchester now is to see a city transformed. Similar to Glasgow, Manchester had suffered massive industrial decline, and regeneration focused mainly on the East of the city. Sometimes a catalyst is needed to provoke change in a place and, just as the IRA bombing of 1996 sparked the renewal of the city centre, so too the 2002 Games marked the beginning of the rejuvenation of the East. The two main venues constructed were the City of Manchester Stadium and the Manchester Velodrome. The latter became the base for the British cycling team,which went on to dominate at the next Olympics of 2008 and 2012; world class athletes need world-class facilities to hone their skills. The former became the home of Manchester City FC, to ensure it was still used after the Games. It has been cited as a key reason in the takeover of the club by the wealthy Abu Dhabi United group, which has resulted in City swiftly becoming one of the biggest teams in Europe. While Manchester United were already a global brand by this point, having a city rival raised the profile of football in Manchester even further.
The preceding Games in 2010, however, offer a sobering comparison. It perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that Delhi struggled with the legacy, given the much-publicized problems in the run up to the start. A lack of suitable accommodation and other construction delays didn’t provide the best of platform for a great event and it was proven the case with low attendances and many athletes pulling out. Too often spectacles like the Games are used to enhance the city’s global image and status, and what therefore happens is a programme of narrow urban regeneration that caters only to the middle class and rich. This fact was especially problematic in a country with such high levels of poverty as India; the city’s slums were bulldozed in order to make space for expensive shopping malls and apartments, and this was done with no reasonable alternative provided for the poor. In relation to sport, participation in the cricket-mad country remains small in areas like running and cycling, and there was no increased interest in these after the event as there was in previous years. The city’s constructed stadia lie empty and abandoned, with no one bothering to think of converting facilities like the Velodrome into something useful for the community.
When thinking about what lies in store for Glasgow after the Games, it’s best to view the Delhi legacy as the fitting model with caution. The run up to the 2014 version hasn’t been plagued by any major construction problems or ticketing issues, and Glaswegians – some of the most passionate sporting fans in the world – are sure to get behind the Games more than the citizens of Delhi ever did. Both sportingly and economically, Glasgow is more in akin to Manchester, and this should be viewed as the more obvious example of what hopefully awaits the city afterwards. And, on a wider and intriguing note, Glasgow’s legacy may reach far beyond any Games before it. Only one month after the finish, another important event in Scotland will occur – if Glasgow hosts a successful Commonwealth Games, and nationwide passion reaches a high level, it may just influence a certain vote in September. Glasgow is ready.