In a controversial move it has been revealed that a live demolition will feature in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games introductory ceremony as it sets the stage for the international sporting competition. The Red Road flats, that have been an integral part of the city’s skyline for over 50 years, as well as at one point being the highest tower blocks in Europe, are to be blown up and the explosion to be streamed live on a 100m wide television screen during the opening ceremony at Glasgow’s Celtic Park. A massive global audience of over one billion people are expected to watch the ceremony on television and the accompanying demolition. While the Glaswegian authorities on the Commonwealth Games were clearly hoping to wow their prospective global audience by introducing the sporting event with a literal bang, there has been wide-spread disbelief and criticism following their proposals.
There were originally eight Red Road flats built during the 1960’s, all around 30 floors high and home to over 4,000 Glasgow residents. Two have already been destroyed – one in the summer of 2012 and the other in May of 2013. Plans to get rid of all of the eight high-rise buildings, save one, have been in the pipeline for a while as part of the Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) Regeneration Project. In the current plans five flats are going to be simultaneously blown up in the largest demolition of this kind Europe has ever seen, and it will only take 15 seconds to see the symbolic buildings crumble into dust. The one tower block which will not be pulled down is to be kept in order to house asylum seekers.
Organizers of the games maintain that this act of violent deconstruction demonstrates a keen sense of reinvention and willingness to embrace change.They state that given the iconic status of the buildings, the demolition perfectly offsets the adaption of the city to prepare for the games. The chairwoman of the Glasgow 2014 ceremonies, Eileen Gallagher, has claimed that the decision to incorporate the plan into the opening ceremony is a celebration of the ambitions, tenacity and warmth of the people of Glasgow. The basis of the decision is that the event is about more than just sport, and a chance for the city to better itself and its people through renovation, innovation and renewal. It is also supposed to be a chance to share a sense of the city’s history as well as providing a nod of recognition to the cultural place they held in the heart of Glasgow for half a century.
Opponents to the scheme, however, are not so sure. For many this is not the message that they believe Glasgow should want to project in conjunction with such a high-profile sporting tournament and is not in keeping with the spirit of the Commonwealth Games. A Reverend from St Mary’s Cathedral in the city has stated that the idea is in “bad taste”, and that while urban regeneration is vital for the infrastructure of Glasgow, it is not something that should be viewed as either entertainment or related to the Commonwealth Games. Other locals have also lamented the act as inappropriate given the fact that the flats served as homes to many people for a long time, therefore the razing of such nostalgic structures is a “crude gesture”. As a result the Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport, Shona Robison has been handed a petition on change.org fighting against the action. The petition has gained hundreds of signatures and counting and was launched by Carolyn Leckie, a former Scottish Socialist Party Member of the Scottish Parliament.
The games will commence on July 23 at Celtic Park in Glasgow and will run until August 3. They are an international competition between the countries of the Commonwealth of Nations, many of which were formerly part of the British Empire. Although they include most of the sports present in the Olympics, they also allow certain sports which are part of the culture of these countries and have roots in British sporting practices; the main examples of these sports are netball, rugby and cricket. Despite the limitation of the participating nations and the fact that only a handful of them have been present for every Commonwealth Games, the event is popular sporting entertainment the world over. It is the third biggest event of its kind after the Olympics and the Asian Games. Thus, despite the small size of the hosting country, Scotland, and its chosen city, Glasgow, many eyes will be scrutinizing the international competition and are sure to have an opinion on the controversial style of introduction, in the form of a live demolition, which has been chosen to set the stage for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
In order to carry out the huge operation, 2755 lb of explosive will be employed and around 800-900 houses in the nearby areas will be evacuated as a precaution. In an ironic twist, the evacuated residents from the surrounding areas have been given invitations to come and personally watch the event. Again, the sight of a small huddle of people on a rough hillside in the north-eastern area of Glasgow city snacking on sandwiches and irn bru while watching a mass building collapse, seems a rather bizarre and unrelated vision to celebrate the opening of the XX (20th) Commonwealth Games. However, a cynic (or local Glaswegian) might note with some humor that this picture is exactly the kind of stunt which sums up a Glaswegian attitude to life and spectator events – best to go bigger, louder, brasher and with plenty of snacks to keep your strength up. Whichever side of the controversy people come down on, one thing is certain, the prospect of a live demolition has set the stage for Glasgow’s 2014 efforts to be unforgettable before the athletes participating in the Commonwealth Games have even made an appearance.
Commentary by Rhona Scullion