GLASGOW, Scotland — Every four years, nations from around the globe compete in the Commonwealth Games. Most of the participating countries are part of the Commonwealth — a group of nations that were once part of the British Empire. This year’s Games — the 20th edition — are in Glasgow, Scotland. There will be approximately 4,500 athletes from 71 nations and territories competing in 17 sports. The Games run from July 23 to Aug. 3.
Only A Game’s Doug Tribou is in Glasgow to cover the Games and is keeping a reporter’s notebook while he’s there. See all his updates here.
The Commonwealth Games are largely unknown in the United States, so it seems appropriate to start with — to borrow a Scottish phrase — a wee bit of history.
The first Games took place in 1930 in Ontario, Canada. That initial gathering attracted 400 athletes from 11 nations. Since then, the Games have been held every four years with the exception of cancellations in 1942 and 1946 because of World War II. This is the third time the Commonwealth Games have come to Scotland and the first time they’ve been held in Glasgow. The previous two Games held in Scotland (1970 and 1986) were in Edinburgh.
The event was originally known as the British Empire Games, but as the nature of the empire changed so did the name. After a couple of iterations, the title “Commonwealth Games” went into effect in 1978.
The First Event: A Long, Slow Relay
The Olympics have a torch. The Commonwealth Games have the Queen’s Baton (pronounced here as bat-in). The baton travels through all of the 71 participating nations and territories on its way to the Games. The baton relay began in October at Buckingham Palace in London. By the time it reaches the opening ceremonies, it will have traveled 190,000 km.
The baton was crafted specifically for the 2014 Games and features a wooden base and an ornate titanium top with lattice work that’s lit from within by an LED light. Inside it is the Queen’s message for the Commonwealth.
Monday evening, I watched the baton pass through the Scotstoun section of Glasgow. Residents lined a long street near a venue to watch and cheer. Unlike the Olympics, countries that are part of a larger union compete separately. So, while Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland compete for Team Great Britain in the Olympics, they each have their own team. Along the route, many people were waving the blue-and-white Scottish flag — also called the Saltire — or had it painted on their cheeks.
“To represent your own country and your own city with the name ‘Scotland’ on your back instead of ‘G.B.,’ it’s everything,” said Robert Conway, a Glasgow resident who has a visual impairment and will be competing for Team Scotland as a para-bowler in the sport of lawn bowls.
Each runner carried the baton for about 200 meters. The relay members included a local physical education teacher, a high school athlete, members of Team Scotland and many more. On the route, the baton is accompanied by a motorcade and a very fit looking security detail that was running much more than that 200 meters.
As the runners handed off, they stopped to shake hands with strangers and family alike, posing for pictures and talking about their part in the procession. The day’s route concluded at a large park where thousands of Glaswegians had gathered. The baton was carried on stage. After some pep rally-style announcements, it sat alone on the stage as people snapped pictures and danced to a well-chosen selection: the Proclaimers’ hit “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).”
The relay team has walked (and run) far more than 500 miles, but they won’t have to walk 500 more before the Queen’s Baton reaches it’s final destination on Wednesday: the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony.
Check out these highlights from the Queen’s Baton Relay through Scotland.