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by Liam Kirkaldy
25 July 2014
Flying the flag

Flying the flag

Bookmaker William Hill claims there has been a jump in bets for a Yes vote following early Scottish triumphs at the Games – though the biggest bet so far is apparently still a single £400,000 placed on No.

When people said they were concerned by the interaction between sport and politics, this was probably not what they had in mind.

But despite warnings not to use the Games as a campaign tool, it was probably inevitable that the event would become drawn into controversy, coming as it does, in the eye of the referendum storm.

The main dispute so far is based in reports that the UK Government stepped in to stop organisers from getting the Red Arrows to trail Scottish colours during the opening ceremony flyover.

UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon insisting that only union colours would be appropriate. The Ministry of Defence stating that the Red Arrows are a “UK military asset that was there to welcome the Queen”.

The dispute went on behind the scenes, with the MoD intervention only becoming apparent when journalists were handed event programmes specifying that the colours would be blue and white, for the Scottish flag.

But while it may be too early to predict what other ways politics may be dragged into the Games, the most important statement has almost certainly already happened.

John Barrowman’s inclusion in the Games too could have led to calls of politicking, given that he has played a major role in Better Together campaigns. As is happened his contribution had nothing to do with the referendum.

The moment arrived around the same time as the flyover, with the actor kissing a male dancer in front of the cameras.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government also made the decision to fly a rainbow flag over St Andrew’s House, in an act of solidarity with those fighting homophobia across the Commonwealth.

The importance of these gestures should not be underestimated.

As veteran equality campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “Alex Salmond’s statement of support for gay rights at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow is a first. The leader of no other host government at either the Commonwealth or Olympic Games has ever made such a positive pro-gay equality statement and backed it up with concrete visible support by flying the gay rainbow flag from government headquarters for the duration of the Games. This is a pioneering, trail-blazing statement by the leader of the host nation.”

Tatchell described the decision as “a significant gesture of solidarity”, saying he hoped it would discomfort homophobic governments.

A man kissing another man may not appear to be a political statement but the stats speak for themselves – with 42 of the 53 Commonwealth states upholding laws that criminalise some or all same sex behaviour.

With campaigners meeting this week to condemn Government attitudes towards LGBTI rights across the Commonwealth, the decision to fly the rainbow flag was a first, and it will send a message around the world.

As Tim Hopkins of the Equality Network said: “It showed Scotland is truly proud of the fact that we are now amongst the world leaders on LGBT equality. And it showed hundreds of millions of people that equality can be fully embraced and accepted.”

The talk leading up to the Games may have been of union jacks versus saltires, but the Game’s biggest success is more likely to be based in the decision to raise a rainbow one.

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