Reflecting on 10 years ago as we prepared to enter the heat of the Nehru Stadium tunnel for the Opening Ceremony of Delhi 2010, it seems a long time yet in other ways like yesterday. These, my first Games as Chef de Mission and the first Games in India, challenged and stimulated all senses and required more of athletes and staff than of any Games I’ve known, but in many ways they were also the most rewarding as the challenges were overcome.
It’s fair to say the commitments made in 2003 in Jamaica, amidst the glamour of cricket stars and a Miss World, of a bigger and better Games weren’t quite delivered in the way we envisaged. After growing unease with progress on different site visits, a late monsoon, and a lack of timing and coordination in building the Games Village in particular, the arrival of our advance team was met with unfinished, flooded buildings still being lived in by the workers and stray dogs. Those in charge at the time had unfortunately misjudged their timings and had let down the athletes and Indian people, who were so looking forward to the Games. A promise of accommodation being ‘better than Beijing’ looked a long way away at that point.
We had a stark choice, to work together with organisers and other countries who were arriving to make the Games happen, or they would not be able to take place as hoped. Being next hosts in Glasgow in 2014 we knew the consequences of them not going ahead as planned were unthinkable, with the future of the Games at stake. Daily calls to the Board and Government back in Scotland kept everyone updated on the situations faced. Even now I am grateful for their unstinting support of our reports and backing of decisions and those of the High Commission on the ground.
Support was given for the decision to delay athlete departures to give us time and this was made possible with help from our carrier Emirates and we all worked to get the organisers to both accept the scale of the issues and act fast. Deputy Chef de Mission Vicky Strange and the rest of our staff literally rolled up their sleeves, put on the marigolds and scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. It was not normally in the job description of the Village Manager, Head Doctor and Head Physio but, with their help and the rest of the small advance team and our volunteers, every room, and every toilet stained by paan, were scrubbed clean to get them ready for the athletes. The unified response from those teams who had arrived early and their High Commissions galvanised action which accelerated further when pictures of the extent of the issues faced were released after the first athletes should have arrived.
Suddenly the monsoon stopped and everything dried up, allowing the clean up to start in earnest. Glass for the balconies appeared, water for the hydrants outside our accommodation was turned on with direct input of the Chief Minister, keys for fire exits were located, and we had a village that was ready for the athletes – all we needed with them here. In the end only the beautiful village swimming pools ended up not being functional. My daily run of interviews with the world’s media eager for updates slowed, as did those fielded by CGS Chair Michael Cavanagh back in Scotland. The best day for all of us who had worked so hard then arrived as we greeted the first athletes with their weary smiles after a long flight. They had privately and publicly trusted us to make the right decisions and we had delivered and it was now up to them and the other athletes of the Commonwealth to deliver on the field of play.
After that sticky, steamy, colourful Opening Ceremony we could focus at last on the sport and the next 10 days saw some amazing competition. In Team Scotland we witnessed many outstanding performances in conditions many athletes had not previously experienced.
The personal redemption of cyclist David Millar on the roads of Delhi as he rediscovered his sense of family with Scotland, as well as being a ‘citizen of the world’. A stunning Tennis Doubles win from Colin Fleming and Jocelyn Rae was matched by Robbie Renwick and Hannah Miley fulfilling their potential in the pool, along with the emergence of Michael Jamieson who hinted at what was to come in London two years later. Shooters Jen McIntosh and Jonathan Hammond with remarkable medal hauls becoming our most successful male and female athletes at a single Games, with Jen taking over the mantle from her mum Shirley, as our greatest female shooter. There was also the unbridled roar of joy from young Weightlifter Peter Kirkbride to win silver, despair of boxer Josh Taylor winning the same colour but feeling he had an opportunity taken from him –later rectified in Glasgow four years later before becoming professional champion of the World. We saw the emergence of Eilidh Doyle on the track and also the agony of the Rugby Sevens missing a last second try opportunity that would have taken them into the medal rounds for the first time.
The Games ended with a Closing Ceremony where Glasgow 2014 stole the show as we invited the world to a next edition of the Games in Scotland and a massive party that followed. In the 10 years since, India has built on the Games legacy with venues now well used by locals. Delhi was transformed before and afterwards on the back of the Games, with a new airport, flyovers and Metro system which our young Achieve athletes and mentors enjoyed riding as they soaked up their Delhi experience, preparing them for Games to come.
For me however, the abiding memory of 2010 was of relief and satisfaction at a job well done getting everyone to the starting line as well as the smiles, not only of those arriving athletes, but of the Indian people as they embraced the Games and all the countries attending. Delhi 2010 was a Games like no other and definitely an experience of a lifetime.