It’s hard to think of any two Commonwealth Games host cities more different than Glasgow and the Gold Coast in faraway Australia, home to the 2018 Games.
But as our small university delegation discovered after making a 30-hour trip across the world a fortnight ago, Glasgow has set a high bar for the Gold Coast to follow – not just with their venues, but with the warmth of their welcome to visitors.
From cobblestones to surf beaches
Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow is a 12th century, magnificent, cobble-stoned place, which is being revived after a long post-industrial depression. The Glaswegians I met at the Games were very proud of their city, and keen to tell how they and their ancestors were born there over many centuries.
In contrast, the Gold Coast is blessed with 40 kilometres of beautiful surf beaches and sub-tropical sunshine almost year round.
Not far from the coast, we also have lush, World Heritage-listed rainforests, and mountainous terrain that will severely test the stamina of the 2018 Games bike riders.
But the vast majority of Gold Coasters – like me – were not born in our city, which is Australia’s sixth largest. It’s a mobile and multicultural population of more than half a million residents, including a proud but relatively small Indigenous population.
It’s also a tourist mecca for both Australians and millions of people from overseas, with particular appeal for surfers, backpackers, and Asian and Middle Eastern tourists.
The Gold Coast’s long and short history
Senior members of the Glasgow City Council asked us how old the Gold Coast was. Our answer? Somewhere from tens of thousands of years old – with archaeological proof of Aboriginal occupation going back at least that far – to as young as just 66 years old.
A bemused council member then asked about the Gold Coast’s oldest public building. After scratching our heads for a while we couldn’t come up with an answer – perhaps because none of the five-strong delegation was a born and bred Gold Coaster. Both sides decided it was time for a drink.
Having thought about it since, there’s good reason why we couldn’t name any historic public buildings: there are none, at least not by Glaswegian standards. Some of our oldest buildings include beachside bathing pools, like the Main Beach Pavilion, built in the 1930s to cater for the influx of people after the First World War who were not yet comfortable in the surf.
Let the next Games begin
The Gold Coast is in the middle of a massive building and redevelopment boom. (You can watch the Gold Coast Bulletin’s new video and photos of the major Games venues here.)
But it’s not all for the Games. The world-class Gold Coast University Hospital was only opened in the last year and overlooks the site of the 2018 Games Village.
Griffith University, established in 1971, is the largest and best-known of the city’s three universities, and sits next to the Games Village. Its contemporary architecture is a long way from the centuries-old spires of Glasgow University.
Together with the hospital, the expanding university forms the heart of the new Health and Knowledge Precinct, which is likely to be one of the main legacies of the 2018 Games.
A sunny Scottish surprise
Coming to Glasgow from Queensland – known locally as the Sunshine State – we had packed for Scottish weather with rain coats, overcoats and jumpers.
But we were in for a shock: the temperature was 27 degrees, the kind of weather we enjoy on the Gold Coast for most of the year.
The locals couldn’t believe it either. Strangely to us, hordes of people sat eating in outdoor cafes in the sun, with no umbrellas or shade. Few Australians do this, as we have the world’s worst skin cancers.
So the weather became a major conversation point in a way we didn’t expect: we Australians complained about the heat, while the Scots laughed and warned us to enjoy it, as it surely couldn’t last (and it didn’t).
But we found that Glasgow’s cooler climate is more than made up for by its people. It must be one of the friendliest cities in the United Kingdom and Europe. The Scots are not always known for their roguish charm and hospitality, but that’s what we received, admittedly at Games time.
Glasgow’s lessons for the Gold Coast and beyond
The Gold Coast 2018 Games will be very different to Glasgow. For a start, we can’t ask Birmingham, London, Manchester and Liverpool to send 500 buses to assist us with transportation. We can’t conjure up a history we don’t have, or a gritty tenacity that is peculiarly Scottish. We don’t have kilts and bagpipes either.
But we can learn from the best of what the Scots have done, especially the way they have seized the opportunity of the 2014 Games to revitalise their great city.
Glasgow’s long-term legacy programs – conceived of and delivered by locally-based community groups across the city and across Scotland – include the redevelopment of the troubled East End with recreational and housing infrastructure and the Games sporting infrastructure. The sustainable health and fitness projects we saw were truly inspired.
The Scots’ attention to detail especially for security was precise and comprehensive. If any one thing unnerved us, it was the scale and complexity required for the job ahead.
Just as importantly, the way the city hosted the event was friendly and welcoming. Clearly, the ‘how’ was as important as the ‘what’. They were never bossy, never too pushy: it was just constant, friendly efficiency. But you knew you were being watched, that someone was on the job – and that was very reassuring.
My colleagues and I returned to the Gold Coast with new questions to ask, including how we can achieve Glasgow’s level of security, especially establishing a buffer around our Games Village, which will be overlooked by two hospitals and a university. And will our new light rail project match the transport might of 500 British buses?
But as the world saw with the successful 2000 Sydney Olympics and 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, Australians always get the job done. And the exceptionally good 2018 Games Organising Committee is well on the way in its planning, even if it still has only 42 staff.
If you come to the Gold Coast in four years’ time, expect to be dazzled by our beaches, our sunshine and our efficiency in putting on big sporting events. If we can do all that, and give visitors as warm a welcome as we enjoyed in Glasgow, we’ll have done our job.