GLASGOW - "You bet we're ready," declared Glasgow's council leader as the Scottish city once again welcomed the world to the banks of the River Clyde for the 20th Commonwealth Games. Known as an "emporium of the world" during its heyday as a trading port, the city is now braced for the arrival of 100,000 overseas sports fans and over 4,000 athletes from the 71 competing nations.
Speaking to AFP from his office in the City Chambers -- a grand Victorian sandstone building symbolic of Glasgow's proud history -- council leader Gordon Matheson promised a warm welcome for guests. "The Friendly Games have come to the friendly city," he said. "Glasgow's always ready to welcome the world."
When asked if the city was well-prepared, Matheson replied: "You bet we're ready! We could have done this a year ago. "It's an enormous honour for me to be leader of the city at this time," he added. In the city's George Square, overlooked by the chambers, the sense of anticipation was growing ahead of Wednesday's opening ceremony.
A long queue snaked in front of a makeshift ticket office, while tourists posed for pictures in front of the square's new focal point, a sculpture of the official Games logo. Sam David, who travelled from Malaysia for the Games, praised the "very welcoming" Glaswegians, while Indian visitor Amanpreet Singh was taken by "the beauty of the city." Nearby Buchanan Street was festooned with bunting and banners carrying the words "bring it on" in a font inspired by legendary designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of the city's most famous sons.
Children played on the statues of Clyde -- the part-human, part-thistle mascot -- dotted around the city, while train commuters arriving at Central Station were greeted with a giant countdown clock. Early risers were treated to the Queen's Baton -- the Games' equivalent of the Olympic Torch -- being zip-lined across the Clyde from the top of the Finnieston Crane, a reminder of a time when the city produced one fifth of the world's ships and a quarter of its locomotives.
Sandra White, member of Scottish parliament for Glasgow Kelvin, told AFP she expected guests to be "amazed" by the city's architecture and busker-filled streets. But some locals complained about the disruption to the city's east end. "They're shutting off a lot of streets, but it's only a fortnight," said 26-year-old painter Craig King. "And it looks a lot better than before."
The east end hosts Celtic Park, where the opening ceremony will take place, the new Emirates Arena and the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome. The area's massive regeneration project also includes the Athletes' Village, which will be turned into 700 mixed tenancy homes after the Games. But in the housing estates in the shadow of Celtic Park, neighbours chat over the fence seemingly oblivious to the frenetic late preparations taking place nearby.
"I'm no interested," snapped one man standing outside his front door. Council leader Matheson points to the 5,000 jobs and apprenticeships created as a result of the Games and new infrastructure projects that he claims helped insulate Glasgow from the recent economic crisis. "Having the Games forced us to do the right thing as a city, which is invest in the long-term," he explained.
Gareth Williams, head of policy for business lobby group the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, told AFP that he also expected long-term benefits. He hoped that the event would make Scotland a world-leader in event management and set the stage for negotiating better trade terms with India for the country's lucrative whisky producers, but argued the Games' "greatest legacy" would be the boosting of skills.
However, with the opening ceremony within touching distance, the focus was now on fun. "It's going to be watched by more than a billion people and it's going to be magnificent," claimed Matheson. "It's an unprecedented opportunity."