POSTED: July 21st 2014

JOHN GOODBODY: Scotland's independence on the agenda at Commonwealth Games

Will Scotland opt to be independent from the United Kingdom? / Bigstock
Will Scotland opt to be independent from the United Kingdom? / Bigstock

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(SFC) There is a sub-text beneath the 20th Commonwealth Games, which begin in Glasgow on Wednesday. I say sub-text but that implies something that it is not immediately obvious. But everyone in the United Kingdom is aware that these Games, the first to be held in Scotland since 1986, an event ruined by financial mismanagement and a boycott of 32 of the 59 eligible countries, are an opportunity for the home nation to demonstrate its athletic prowess and organisational competence.

On September 18th, the Scots will vote on whether they want independence from the rest of the United Kingdom and so become a self-governing country. Those in favour are hoping that the Ryder Cup, which starts in Gleneagles, one of the most lovely golf courses in Scotland, five days later will provide a particularly joyous celebration.

The Games in Glasgow consist of 17 sports and the early signs are that they should be a triumph. Certainly the build-up has been even less troublesome than for the 2012 Olympics, which is saying something. As occurred in London two years ago, there has been a huge demand for tickets and many of the events will be packed out. The British can scarcely get enough of live sport nowadays as the massive crowds for the first few days of the Tour de France showed.

If the Games are as successful as they promise, the campaigners for independence will be boosted and already national governing bodies and other organisations in the United Kingdom are examining how they would react if this comes about. Some sports, notably football, have always been administered in the separate home countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But the vast majority have a U.K. governing body and this applies to the British Olympic Association. At the 2012 Olympics, Scots won 14 of the 65 medals, including seven golds –among them two from cyclist Chris Hoy, the most successful British Olympian of all time with six titles, tennis player Andy Murray and Katherine Grainger, Britain’s best-ever oarswoman. One of the ironies of the situation is that Grainger and Murray both now live in England and under the rules for the referendum will be unable to vote, although the Scots, quite understandably, are keen to claim them when they have been victorious.

In the event of a ‘yes’ vote –and at the moment this is, by no means, impossible –could Scotland compete as an independent nation at the 2016 Olympics ? Judging by how Montenegro was admitted on equally short notice to take part in the 2008 Games in Beijing, this is perfectly feasible. Scotland would have to be recognised as a separate country by enough international governing bodies but this could easily be done in time and, in fact, in several sports, has already been achieved.

The bigger question, in the short term, is whether the Scots, currently training in British facilities in England, such as the national rowing and cycling centres, would want to represent Scotland, especially in some team sports such as rowing and hockey, when they might know that their chances of getting to the Games, let alone winning a medal, could be dependent on which nationality they are. Grainger, for instance, would have been highly unlikely to win her three silver medals and her gold medal in rowing if she had competed for Scotland, with other Scots in the boat.

There is also the question of whether English facilities should be available to Scots on a regular basis, given that they would be rivals at future Games. The Scottish National Party argues that in the long-term, it would plan to have similar or better facilities in Scotland anyway. Whether it would do so for all the Olympic sports is a moot point, let alone have the financing available to provide a similar level of coaching, medical back-up and funding for individual athletes across all sports.

These Commonwealth Games may well be swept along in an outburst of euphoria of nationalism but the reality may eventually be a little different.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.   

Keywords · John Goodbody · Glasgow 2014 · Commonwealth Games

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