Edinburgh’s First Commonwealth Games
The 22nd Commonwealth Games begin in Birmingham this month and are expected to be the largest yet staged.
Edinburgh has played host to the games twice. The first of these in 1970, the 9th British Commonwealth Games, was the first major multi-sport event ever staged in Scotland.
The Commonwealth Games Newsletters: A Fantastic Insight
The Library through the JSTOR database has access to an archive of the official newsletters published in the lead-up to those games.
These give a fascinating insight into the organisational efforts required to stage the games, reflect the excitement the games generated, and highlight some of the societal and technological changes we have witnessed since.
In addition to the nearly £4 million capital sum spent on creating the major venues, a general appeal was launched to fund the games with an initial target of £200,000. The newsletters tell us that contributions received ranged from a single 3d (1.5p) stamp from an anonymous donor to £25000 from both Edinburgh and Glasgow Corporations. Dinner dances, whist drives, and fashion shows are all reported as helping to swell the coffers as the games approached.
For a celebration of athleticism, a donation of £1000 from a cigarette manufacturer may raise eyebrows today but was received without qualms at that time.
Donations in kind were also received. One fuel company offered to provide 10000 gallons of petrol for the official vehicles. How much would that be worth at today’s prices?
The vehicles were supplied by solid British manufacturers including Leyland and Rootes and volunteer drivers were recruited. Specific mention is made of the 20 “lady drivers” provided by the Edinburgh Junior Chambers of Commerce Wives Group.
Tickets could be purchased by post, or in person at the official ticket outlet, R W Forsyth’s, one of Princes Street’s leading stores.
In true Scottish fashion, the January newsletter tells us, “Telephone bookings cannot be entertained, as orders must be accompanied by the appropriate costs before tickets can be released”.
So, Nae cash! Nae ticket!
Edinburgh’s First Commonwealth Games
A day at the bowls arena cost 7/- 6d (38p) but a hefty £4 was required for prime seating at the closing ceremony, though there was an unreserved open-air seating option at 15/- (75p). Comparable seats at Birmingham are priced at £290
Teams were housed in a “Games village” at Edinburgh University’s Pollok Halls. It was reported that the catering subcommittee was “evolving Eastern and Western menus”, and one-third of the dishes were “non-British in origin”. However, haggis, porridge, and Scotch broth would be available as “novelties’’.
A very precise 42/- 3d (£2.11) per day was allocated to feed the competitors but no one would be “refused seconds”. It was also noted that washing and toilet facilities would be available on every floor of the accommodation!
Modernism was creeping in. The games were the first to be measured in metric, so 400 metres replaced 440 yards etc. They were also the first with electronic timing and backstage at the weightlifting a “unique scoreboard with writing in light” was specifically mentioned. CCTV was also introduced so that competitors did not have to join the audience to watch their rivals in action.
Whilst upward of a “million paper photocopies” were to be provided for the press there was heavy emphasis placed on modern telecommunications. 500 extra private telephone/telex circuits were being installed, along with 200 new public telephones, including 12 in a bus for use on the cycle road race. Unfortunately, the mechanics of this latter operation are not elaborated on, but the concept of the mobile phone would appear to be not that new.
Events would also be broadcast on TV in colour, though the latter had only arrived in Scotland the previous December and was not yet that widespread.
Whilst today we take for granted many aspects involved in organising major sporting events, these newsletters reflect the remarkable nature of many of the preparations back then.
At an estimated £778 million it would certainly require many successful whilst drives to help assuage the costs of the 2022 games.
I wonder however if that same palpable sense of excitement at the ‘new’ evident from these newsletters can be duplicated in Birmingham.
By John Baillie
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