Action Replay: Games, Shops and Springboards
They’re called The Friendly Games but they have plenty of rivalry, flag-waving and drug-taking, just like any big international sports gathering. The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, which finished early last month, have been hailed as a major success for the city, for Scotland, and for the Commonwealth.
And of course it’s not just, or not even mainly, about sport. The buzz word is ‘legacy’ (see legacy2014.co.uk). VisitScotland, the national tourist organisation, emphasised that the Games would be a boost to tourism in both the host city and the whole country. Tourism is apparently worth £11bn a year to the Scottish economy, but there is hope that that can be increased, with the Games acting as a springboard (in a sporting metaphor, of course) for yet more visitors. £560m has been spent on the Games, with this seen as investment for the future.
On the negative side, Atos, notorious for implementing in a particularly harsh way some of the government’s austerity measures, was chosen as one of the Games partners, which many Glaswegians saw as adding insult to injury. Parking restrictions were suddenly introduced in places, as a further instance of the Games having priority over local residents. Parts of the city have been prettified (street cleaning, planting flowers, etc) but this has been confined to certain spots, such as those on the marathon course.
One of the most deprived areas of Glasgow is the East End, where many of the Games events were held. New houses and hotels were constructed in place of existing buildings, but one resident complained that the result was that there were ‘nae fucking shops’ (Guardian, 2 August). A day centre for adults with learning difficulties was demolished to be replaced by a car park; the council said this was to provide ‘a more efficient service’ (the standard justification for practically every cut or restructuring).
The real test, no doubt, will be to see if the Games, and the Scottish team’s performance, has any effect on voting in the ‘independence’ referendum. Nicola Sturgeon, head of the Yes campaign, pointed out that Scotland had won a record number of medals, as if this would somehow influence people’s voting intentions. Still, it’s probably as relevant to workers as arcane arguments about the retention of the pound.