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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: On Your Mark!

                                                                                                                                         Thursday July 31, 2014


The July 1970 issue of Life and Work offered Ian Henderson’s thoughts on the first Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.


ON the 16th of this month, the Ninth British Commonwealth Games will be officially opened at Meadowbank Stadium, Edinburgh. After years of planning and preparation and the attendant upheaving, bickering and alas! Various withdrawals, the Games are on. Over the last few months the volume of publicity has steadily increased – favourable and unfavourable.

‘Second in importance only to the Olympics’ (Official Progress Report)

‘The Friendly Games’ (Duke of Edinburgh).

‘No Free Tickets for the Games Volunteers’ (Daily Express)

There have been many criticisms and crisis but one thing is certain. It has been a most formidable exercise in logistics. The stadium and the complex of halls, velodrome (cycling stadium) at Meadowbank cater for athletics, cycling, wrestling and badminton. Weight lifting is in Leith Town Hall; bowling at Balgreen municipal greens, swimming at the Royal Commonwealth pool, Dalkeith Road. Boxing has been banished to the barrenness of Murrayfield Ice Rink – but do not grieve for the boxers, ladies, there will be warm work.

It has taken an estimated £2.3million to set the scene so far. Forty-two countries, from Antigua to Zambia were invited to take part. Fifty committees with over 300 members have cerebrated in the background.

There are over 300,000 spectator seats ranging in price from 2/6 to £4 per session. Hundreds of athletes and thousands of spectators have been catered for down to the last detail. Reception parties have been arranged to meet planes, accommodation has been booked for everyone, special foods and drink drinks have been ordered for athletes and lost vaulting poles traced.

Pole vaulters are always losing their poles. Back in the 1930’s Cornelius Warmerdam lost his when he crossed America by train to break 15 feet for the first time. They use fibre glass poles now and pole vaulters launch the projectiles over 17 feet but they still keep losing their poles: mostly on trains. That is the sort of everyday problem the Games officials have plans to solve.

The statistics of the whole undertaking are astronomic. Those whose regular job it is to run the kirk fete or organise the choir social may be able to cope with the figures but I must admit that they baffle me. The organisational problems are beyond my understanding. Fortunately they are not beyond the organisers’ The 50 committees have done their work well. The buildings are up, the tracks laid, the tickets allocated. What now? This is the second biggest sports meeting in the world. Records will be broken: fractions of seconds clipped off race times, jumping laths pushed up by centimetres, weights and hammers will rain like thunderbolts farther than ever before from the trig.

There is a strange, almost mystical power generated by athletes in competition. No physical laws can be adduced to explain the constant improvement in performance. Yesterday’s record is today’s qualifying standard.

Athletes pray a lot – they call it positive thinking, concentration, or summoning up the reserves – and you can see them do it.

Watch a high jumper as he prepares for his run-up; a shot-putter as he pauses before starting his glide.

Look for Muslims kneeling to the East and Roman Catholics making the sign of the Cross. The power of prayer is firmly held by athletes. (There could be a thesis there for someone.)

Over the past year the final selection of competitors has been made. I wonder if anyone from Lilongwe or Kota-Kota will be there, or even from Visanza itself? For Malawi at one stage promised to send a team and I used to live there.

India and Pakistan were to be strongly represented and if in fact this is the case I may seen the sons and daughters of old friends, for I had five years in the Indian Army.

“The entire concept of the Commonwealth Games it to provide and occasion for friendly and light-hearted rivalry between members of a family.” When the war ended I went from Burma to Malaya and was stationed in Seremban, Kuala Lipis and Kuala Lumpur. There will surely be visitors in Edinburgh from some of these areas and I hope they find in Edinburgh the friendship and support I found in their homelands.

Is it too  much to hope that no one will be overcharged for food, gifts or fares? Dare we expect that colour prejudice will be unknown? Will Edinburgh’s hospitality extend far beyond the purely commercial?

These are the factors that will decide the real success of the Games. In the final reckoning the money and the numbers and the records will count for much less than the human contacts, the friendship and the understanding that may be generated.

We have a glorious opportunity to further the real amity of nations and the true cause of peace in Edinburgh this summer.

Athletes all over the world have trained with total dedication for their visit to Edinburgh. Africans have run blistering marathons, Indians and Pakistanis furiously thrown and jumped. Malays and Chinese have practised badminton with fanatical zeal and portly Rotarians have bent anxiously over their bowls in the outback of Australia and the suburbs of Canada.

Let us make them all welcome to Scotland, athletes and spectators alike. This is the time when real hopes for peace and fellowship may be realised, when the idea of a Commonwealth of Nations existing in peace and harmony may be achieved.

Go to the Games, and make friends.