Condemnatory comments have had their usual airing in the lead-up to today's start of the 20th Commonwealth Games. This is, it is said, an anachronistic and third-rate event, trailing the Olympics and individual sports' world championships in status. Maybe so, but it remains unwise to play down its significance. It remains the second-largest global sports gathering, after the Olympics. It is easy to remember, also, the outpouring of national woe that followed a worse-than-expected showing by the New Zealand team in Melbourne eight years ago. Eyes will be on Glasgow over the next 11 days for confirmation that this country has, subsequently, become far more adept at identifying talent and giving it every opportunity to flourish.

There will be little excuse for poor performance. The Scots have organised the event smoothly. The contrast with the shambles in New Delhi four years ago could not be more palpable. If there is one area of potential shortcoming, it lies in the appetite of Glaswegians. The best Games are those buoyed by the enthusiasm of the local people. Those in Britain, which enjoys a multitude of top-class sporting events, have tended to be among the more low-key. Hopefully, the feelgood factor generated by the London Olympics still has some momentum.

As many as 29 gold medallists from that event will compete in Glasgow. That includes the biggest name of all, Usain Bolt. He, however, will race only in the 4x100m relay. This is an undoubted blow to the Games, as is the fact that fellow Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, a dual Olympic 100m champion, will also restrict herself to one relay. But the Games still enjoy some standing in Jamaica, judging by her declaration that she is determined to add Commonwealth gold to medals of that colour won at other international events. Furthermore, there is no cloud over the participation of names as prominent as Mo Farah on the track and Bradley Wiggins in cycling.

It should also be remembered that in netball, rugby sevens and bowls, the Games are virtual world championships. In both Melbourne and New Delhi, the New Zealand bowls team fell below expectation. A younger squad has been sent to Glasgow in the hope of recapturing the previously high standard. The netball and sevens teams seem likely to again square off against Australia for gold. Both enjoyed memorable victories in New Delhi.


This is an opportunity to further dent the confidence of the Australians, who at London had their worst Olympics result since 1992. Much of their usual bullishness has been missing in the run-up to Glasgow. According to their chef de mission, Steve Moneghetti, "the Australian public needs to be realistic and understand this will be a very challenging Games to have the success they take for granted and expect at Commonwealth Games".

Across the sporting spectrum, New Zealand has had a far better time of it of late. In shot putter Valerie Adams, it has the closest thing to a gold-medal certainty, while 1500m runner Nick Willis and swimmer Lauren Boyle have demonstrated they are in the best form of their lives. The men's cycling sprint team also claimed a world championship title just five months ago. All this suggests New Zealand will at least match the New Delhi haul of 36 medals - six gold, 22 silver and eight bronze.

For some of the 232 New Zealand competitors, these Games will be a stepping stone to the Rio Olympics. Others will confront the sternest test of their sporting lives.

All must strive to meet the weight of national expectation. Funding for their sports also depends on their efforts. And, whatever some may say of the Commonwealth Games, so does a good deal of national pride.