MOTHERWELL and Wishaw MSP Jack McConnell is leading the local celebrations after helping to bring the 2014 Commonwealth Games to Glasgow — and to his own constituency.
Strathclyde Park will host the triathlon when more than 6000 athletes from 71 nations arrive in Scotland in just over six years’ time, and local athletes, coaches and politicians have queued up to express their delight about the Scottish success.
Now Lanarkshire’s own bid team are hoping to make it a double as they work to bring the prestigious International Children’s Games, dubbed the “mini Olympics”, to the county in 2011.
Mr McConnell, the former First Minister, spearheaded the Glasgow 2014 bid for five years until last May’s Scottish Parliament election, and says that the 47-24 victory over Nigerian capital Abuja in last Friday’s Commonwealth Games Federation ballot in Sri Lanka will rank as one of his greatest achievements.
He said: “There are many highlights from my time as First Minister, but bringing the Commonwealth Games to Scotland and Glasgow will always be very high up that list, and I’m thrilled to have been in a position to do that and then make sure an important event is going to be held right here on our doorstep.
“Staging the triathlon at Strathclyde Park gives us the chance to show off this area and Lanarkshire in a fantastic light; those who go along to watch will never forget that experience, and one of the huge boosts will be all the young people who will now take part in sport in the run-up to the Games and be inspired by them.
“There have been several major rowing events there including the Commonwealth regatta last year, and that was part of the aim of showcasing Glasgow from the start rather than in the final stages — to show the sports people who were going to vote that the facilities are there and that we can attract big crowds and run successful events.”
While successor Alex Salmond led the Scottish delegation at the crucial conference in Colombo, Mr McConnell watched the live announcement at the Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow, in the company of dozens of athlete ambassadors including Yvonne Murray-Mooney, the Commonwealth medallist from Motherwell.
He said: “I’ve been very confident for the past 18 months that we were going to win, but in the last 18 seconds before the result, I was just completely frozen.
“Winning was always going to be a real challenge but it would have been such a disappointment not to get the Games having been favourites and knowing we had the best bid, so when the result was finally announced it was a mixture of relief, excitement and sheer delight.
“I probably enjoyed the experience of being in Glasgow with the athletes and young people more than if I had been out there with the delegates.”
North Lanarkshire Council leader Jim McCabe was also part of the frenzied celebrations at the Glasgow venue, and vowed that the local authority will immediately start helping to deliver on the promise that Scotland will host the best-ever games.
He said: “I’m delighted that the bid was successful and I’m especially proud that North Lanarkshire has played a part — we have supported the bid from day one and now we will continue to work as part of a committed team to take forward the plans for what is sure to be a terrific event.”
Cleland man Stevie Newns was assistant coach of the Scottish boxing squad at both the 2002 and 2006 Games, and will be using the Glasgow event as a massive motivational tool for his young charges at Newarthill ABC.
He was one of the 1.8 million people who registered their support for the successful bid, and said: “I’m just so happy that we’ve got the Games and I’m excited just thinking about it.
“It’s been five years of hard work and it’s fantastic for Glasgow and people in this area — these games are for the whole country, and I think we’ll even see a resurgence in the health of the nation in the lead-up.
“We’re picking out people in our gym who have potential, especially athletes who are aged between 14 and 16 just now and encouraging them to aim for this.
“We’re saying to them, ‘this is a realistic goal for you’.
“Scotland has won a boxing medal at every Commonwealth Games and I’d love to be part of trying to continue that in 2014 if I’m successful in being selected as a coach once again, but if not I’ll hope to be there as a volunteer because being part of that event is just such an amazing experience.”