After a 40-year absence Glasgow will again host Europe’s biggest indoor athletics meeting. And just maybe it was the bagpipes that won it for the city.
Glasgow has a long history of hosting sporting spectacles and thanks to the work of a dedicated team of professionals at EventScotland, it is set to stage yet another.
The European Indoor Athletics Championships will return to the city in 2019, after a near 40-year absence, in no small part thanks to the skills of an amateur athlete-cum-piper.
Tasked with impressing a committee of high-ranking athletics in Lausanne in Switzerland (where the bid was officially submitted in January this year) and again in Amsterdam for the follow-up ‘pitch’ to judges in April, EventScotland, working with UK Athletics, decided the skirl of the bagpipes was the perfect antidote to the rather staid format of a boardroom presentation.
“It added a really great little flourish to the bid,” explains Rhona Corscadden, who was part of the official delegation that travelled to both the high (think Alps) and low (think polders) countries.
“We thought it would be nice to bring in a piper, just to do something different,” adds Corscadden, a senior events manager at EventScotland. “We approached Scottish Athletics to see if any of our athletes could play the pipes and luckily they found one. So Michael Fernie, a 400m runner, piped the bid into the office in Lausanne – the guys over there were all delighted with that.”
Whether, in fact, the office-dwelling executives of the European Athletic Association were actually expecting anyone at all, when the 100-page plus document could have simply been posted to its Swiss HQ, is another matter. But any complaints about superfluous spend should probably remain unsaid, given Glasgow won the rights to stage the competition at the Emirates Arena in three years’ time.
“We didn’t see anyone else when we there [the rival nations],” adds Corscadden. “Maybe they did just post them. We thought it would be good to travel over.”
After an evaluation visit by judges to Glasgow in February, who inspected the venue, hotels, warm-up facilities and, perhaps unnecessarily, “various restaurants”, the final coup de grace was delivered at the 15-minute pitch in Amsterdam in April (supported, once again, by Fernie and his pipes).
“We were first up and the other countries waiting in the foyer must have seen and heard our piper, who was very noisy,” Corscadden added. The pitch itself, which scandalously overran by a whole minute, had been meticulously rehearsed by the six-man team, which included retired European indoor 60m champion Jason Gardener (now President of UK Athletics), ex-400m runner Donna Fraser and teenage sprint prospect Finette Agyapong, who struck up an immediate rapport with the Romanian member of the Association’s council, former athlete Gabriela Szabo.
“You could just see her connecting to the young athlete – it was a really nice moment,” said Corscadden, who then had to wait nervously with her colleagues whilst the rival bids from Minsk (Belarus), Torun (Poland) and Apeldoorn (Netherlands), went ahead. Thankfully, around two hours later, the team were called back in front of Svein Arne Hansen, President of the European Athletic Association, where it was revealed Glasgow had won with nine votes, followed by six to Torun, one to Apeldoorn and a big fat zero to Minsk, despite the latter having a very impressive 12,000-seater stadium.
“We knew we had the strongest technical bid to deliver a major event, so we were delighted,” adds Corscadden. “Politically, we thought there may have been a will for an Eastern European city city to get a big product. Belarus had an incredible venue but they had a very challenging doping history and I think it bodes well for European athletics that none of those council members voted to put their flagship event in a country which at the moment is plagued by doping scandals and is on a blacklist from the IAAF. I think it’s good for the sport and it shows for European athletics that they can see that, and it’s not the way for the sport to go at the moment.”
She added: “And I think with the known athletes we took out there, that they could see we were very serious about the bid. We had been worried that some of the nations like Holland might have taken a superstar like Dafne Schippers with them, but fortunately that didn’t turn out to be the case.”
And so, Glasgow prevailed, and this month the next stage (of organisation, planning and project teams) commences. A steering group committee will be established involving all the relevant partners, from local city officials to government agencies. And it’s that organisational focus, as well as a thoroughly thought out submission document – which covered facilities, broadcasting, accommodation, transport, sustainability, promotion, marketing, as well as ’10 reasons for Glasgow’ and more – that Corscadden believed secured the Games for the city. That and the fact that the budget was underwritten by city and government coffers certainly did the bid no harm.
“It was over and above what was required,” she adds. “And not being heavily reliant upon securing massive sponsorship, which I understand some of the other countries might have been reliant on, I think that really helped. We also have a really fantastic track record for putting on these kind of sporting events in the city, especially indoor athletics, as we did at Kelvin Hall in 1990, all those years ago.”
What: The European Indoor Athletics Championships
Where: Emirates Arena, Glasgow