CWG 2014: Games people still play

Written by Shivani Naik | Updated: Jul 24 2014, 14:32pm hrs
In the pub-crawl of international sports, played to the latino of Brazils World Cup and jazz of Wimbledon, the country airs of Tour de France and the blues of Chisora refusing to fight Fury, the metal of Rorys triumph at the Open and finally the bhangra-rap of Indias Test win over England, Scotland will try to line up men wearing skirts who will proficiently play the hauntingly brilliant laments of the bagpipe at the Commonwealth Games starting Wednesday.

Athletes, not quite kilted - more kitted out, will try following the pipe-majors. Sure English have ripped apart the Scottish opening ceremony wear in their tabloids, and Australias woken up to find little apple-islanders Tasmania missing from its Speedo suits. But historical excuses to snipe at each other can only go so far within this community of Commonwealth nations.

So its all settled by playing sport.

Its simplistic to say that the tenuous imperial links that the British (name dropped in 1978) Empire (name slashed in 1970) had with its erstwhile territories have frayed so much, that the Commonwealth Games are completely redundant.

Even allowing for lawn bowls and the queens baton relay, the Games were the talk of town in the Indian capital four years ago, where, as generous hosts we served the travelling contingents a hundred different cuisines and offered athletes shampoo top-ups in bathrooms - one for each visitor.

Mercifully, India also made the most of its own lavish party by finishing second on the medals table.

So why blame the Scots who are looking to scale two peaks (they call it Munro bagging here) in two months host the best party possible at the Games in the coming dozen days, and then try and rid themselves of the overlordship of England in a Yes/No referendum mid-September, where they can chuck out a three-century long baggage, like bins emptied of liquor bottles, the morning after.

Why grudge the Scots the right to feel punch pleased about themselves after theyve goaded Usain Bolt to step out of his lush London apartment and run a sprint relay, in what is frankly a 9-second-or-less of exhibition.

They dont see it that way here, of how this assembly of athletes who assuredly speak English or know someone who definitely does is wasting its collective time at a Games, that are battling for relevance.

Sir Chris Hoy, legend on the bike, is a Scot and obliged to make an impassioned plea for the Games to be taken seriously. But you sense that he believes in what hes saying when he says, Athletes can still become legends and household names after a good Commonwealth haul. Theyve played a big part in giving me experience to go onto the Olympics and win there, he says in his deep voice.

For swimmer Michael Jamieson, a Glasgow boy and Olympic silver medallist in 200m, it is about getting the host nation its first gold of the Games at a pool where he grew up.

The Australians have fallen back on the old whipping boys, the English, as their pool-pipers Alicia Coutts, James Magnussen, Christian Sprenger and Lorna Tonks go about strutting their stuff, and the rest of the sportsmen go head-to-head against the Ashes rivals.

If nothing else, this Commonwealth can be held together by the common theme of how everyone can find enough reasons to diss the English.

Theres also Mick Gauld an English pistol shooter, a grandfather, who also doesnt like his fellow English who denied him a place at the London Olympics. Hes chasing Philip Adams 18 medals to become the all-time highest. But theres enough athletes around, like Roland Schoeman of South Africa, who consider the Games a tradition, a why-not, a chance to contribute to the nations tally.

Bolts treating this like a guest appearance, but for the likes of David Rudisha, Sally Pearson, Mo Farah, it is London Games Lite two years after their biggest triumphs. Theres the fresh burst of Kenyan Eunice Sum, currently dominating 800m and Canadian Derek Drouin hop-scotching over 2.40m, and the long legacy of Valerie Adams, the Kiwi shotputter whos unbeaten for years. The Games will always find meaning for those without other preoccupations on their minds as a tune-up for the next big Olympics.

Southern hemispheres small top-dogs New Zealand have rugby and netball crowns to defend, and for perennial Olympic hopefuls squash with its agreeable poster-children Nicol David and Nick Matthew, CWG is as big as it can get, given wrestling edged them out.

The one-sidedness and dominance of certain contests even if India rake them in in badminton and shooting can be a little off-putting, but rivalries get made as you go along, and secretly even Glasgow is itching to show Edinburgh (its like a Mumbai-Delhi scoff-off) that Scotland can erase the disastrous memories of Edinburgh 1986, which was racked by boycotts.

Indias come a long way since they snubbed the Empire in the 1930s and turned on their heels setting off for the South East Asian Games instead. Even in 2014, the Asiad makes more sense as do the World Championships in badminton and shooting and the Olympic qualification in hockey at Incheon rather than this Glasgow gallivant.

But then again, the sweetest feeling as Indians who edged out England at Delhi would know, is pipping the Auld Enemy. Within the Commonwealth, enemies can be made and unmade as you go along. In Scotland, youll also find a piper at hand, to raise the shrilly pitch of the battle cry.