Glasgow 2014: haggis, Scotties, charity pleas, anthem angst
Commonwealth Games opening ceremony divides opinion as attention turns to the competition
The 20th Commonwealth Games officially began in Glasgow on Wednesday evening and the opening ceremony has divided opinion among the British media. An "exuberant, good-humoured, periodically chaotic evening" was how the Daily Mail described the ceremony, featuring as it did a giant haggis, cabers, golf clubs, a gay wedding, 41 Scottish terriers, Rod Stewart and, of course, the Queen.
The Times awarded Glasgow "gold" for the ceremony but wondered if there should have been more emphasis on the Games and sport rather than transforming the event "into an international fundraising exercise", with actor Ewan McGregor urging the 40,000 spectators in the Celtic Park stadium – and the one billion television viewers – to "donate £5 each to international charities".
The most stinging criticism comes in The Guardian. Acknowledging the humour and energy in the ceremony, the paper nonetheless ridiculed Alex Salmond – the country's First Minister – and his promise that the ceremony would "show the world the very best of Scotland". It did that all right, says the Guardian, provided "your definition of the country's greatest output includes pipers, dancing Tunnock's teacakes, Scottie dogs and Susan Boyle singing Mull of Kintyre".
The political significance of the event, two months out from the independence referendum, was not lost, even in Australia. There was a "sharp intake of breath" when the queen arrived and it was time for the national anthem, says Malcolm Knox of the Sydney Morning Herald. "What was it to be? Flower of Scotland, the anthem of the host nation? Scotland the Brave? Or one of the anthems of the Glasgow football club that has made its home at Parkhead for a century and a quarter? Come Out Ye Black and Tans, anyone?" In the end, God Save the Queen was sung in the spirit of "togetherness".
An appearance by Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar was also significant, says Knox, and highlighted the difference between these games and the Olympics. Tendulkar "may not be a world figure, but he is certainly a Commonwealth one".
But with the swirl of the bagpipes having died away, attention now turns to 11 days of sport beginning today with a packed schedule that includes two of Britain's stars of the 2012 Olympics in action.
English brothers Alistair and Jonny Brownlee go for gold in the triathlon with Alistair the Olympic champion and his younger brother the bronze medallist two years ago. Since then, however, injury and illness have curtailed Alistair's career but for the first time in nearly two years he is injury free and coming back to the form he showed in London. "To be honest, I haven't – because of injuries – been able to put together a normal six-week block of training since London 2012 until recently," he explained earlier in the week. "But now everything is fine. I'm fit and there's nothing wrong, which is not something I've said very often in the last few years. The last few weeks have gone well."
Similarly, Bradley Wiggins has been bedevilled by injury in the two years since he won the 2012 Tour de France and then gold in the Olympic Time Trial. Dropped from Team Sky for this year's Tour, the 34-year-old has a point to prove in Glasgow as he returns to the track after six years on the road. Competing for England in the team pursuit along with Steve Burke, Ed Clancy and Andy Tennant, Wiggins hopes to add a Commonwealth title to his medal collection having won three silvers in his two previous Commonwealth appearances.
Wiggins will be racing in the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome, named after Britain's most decorated Olympian, and the Londoner is planning to use the Commonwealth Games as the first step in an audacious bid to steal Hoy's Olympic record in two years' time at the Rio Olympics. With four Olympics golds to his name so far, Wiggins has ambitions of competing in the team pursuit, individual pursuit, time-trial and the road race at the 2016 Games. Were he to win gold in all four he would have one more gold than Hoy's tally of seven.
In Glasgow he's limiting himself to the team pursuit only as he looks to put two years of injury and ill-health behind him. "I thought just focus on the Olympic event rather than try to be too greedy," he said. "The initial thing, having been away [from the track] for so long, was whether I could still do it straight away. The initial signs were really good and since then I've just been focusing on the team pursuit."