Let the Games commence and their legacy prosper

Margaret Thatcher is standing directly across the stadium from me, wildly swinging her handbag. A marathon runner from Lesotho has appeared on the track long after most other competitors have finished, but collapses in a heap with yards to go.

Prime ministerial decorum is abandoned as Mrs Thatcher frenziedly exhorts the exhausted runner to stagger across the line. If you had photographic evidence of this little incident, you might add the caption: "There's no such thing as lactic acid build-up."

I was 11 when I spent a day at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh's Meadowbank Stadium. Excitement was dulled by 32 nations' decision to boycott in protest at the UK government's stance on apartheid and I remember little other than long waits between sporadic action, which I filled by scouring the stadium for athletes to scribble in my autograph book. The only legacy the Games left me with was a few quirky memories.

Research has consistently shown that it is hard for big sporting events to achieve a lasting impact. Last November a parliamentary report warned that an "effective and robust" legacy from the London 2012 Olympics was in jeopardy. There was little evidence of increased sports participation and confusion over who was responsible for legacy.

Glasgow's Commonwealth Games will finally begin on Wednesday. There have been ticketing difficulties and a narrowly avoided PR disaster - the idea of blowing up the Red Road flats during the opening ceremony was ditched after a public outcry - but a huge sense of positivity remains intact.

Thousands of free tickets have been handed out to those who may otherwise never have attended the Games, children's residential units included. And unusually, young people have been using venues such as the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome since they opened. Instead of spectators watching agog as elite athletes do their thing, Glasgow 2014 is championing a sense of egalitarianism.

As we will show in a special report next week, these Games may have a special something that keeps the feel-good factor alive for years to come. And this week we report on some of the ways in which young people have already benefited in a lasting way (see pages 8-10).

Crucially, legacy will not take shape after the opening ceremony. It has been building for years, in attempts to increase sports participation and use of school facilities, and to bolster global, citizenship and interdisciplinary education. Legacy, Glasgow 2014 will attempt to show, is not an end in itself but a catalyst for things that were happening anyway.

The 1970 Commonwealth Games were also held in Edinburgh. In his book The Final Whistle?, former Herald editor Harry Reid recalls "the freshness, the zest, the innocence", which contrasted with the "tired and petty nature" of Scotland's national sport, football. But those Games turned out to be only a "fleeting and glorious moment". This time, things should be different.


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