A Commonwealth Coming of Age


Written by Joanne Taylor

The first Commonwealth Games were held in 1930 in Hamilton, Canada. Bobby Robinson, a major influence within athletics in Canada at the time, finally implemented the event that had been talked about amongst Commonwealth nations for over thirty years. Eleven countries with 400 athletes in total participated in the first Commonwealth Games.

Eleven countries sent 400 athletes to take part in 59 events in six sports namely athletics, boxing, lawn bowls, rowing, swimming, and wrestling. Women competed only in aquatic events, and England lead the medal table with 25 gold medals, 23 silver medals and 13 bronze medals. New Zealand came home with three gold, four silver and two bronze medals, ranking fourth overall after England, Canada and South Africa.

The Commonwealth Games 2018 (GC2018) is the 21st instalment of the prestigious sporting event, run every four years since 1930, except for 1942 and 1946, which were cancelled due to World War II. Surprisingly, GC2018 will be the first time in the history of a major multi-sport games that there will be an equal number of medal events for men and women – a true milestone for gender equality.

The games get their name from, you guessed it – the Commonwealth of Nations, which are the competing countries. This year, there are 71 nations and territories competing, with Gambia returning after re-joining the Commonwealth of Nations and the Maldives excluded as they withdrew from the Commonwealth in 2016. There is a total of 53 members of the Commonwealth of Nations, including a number of British overseas territories, Crown dependencies and island states who compete under their own flag. England, Isle of Man, Guernsey, Gibraltar, Jersey, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all send separate teams to compete in the Games.

The games were known as the British Empire Games between 1930 and 1950, the British Empire and Commonwealth Games from 1954 to 1966, and British Commonwealth Games from 1970 to 1974.

In 1911, the 'Festival of Empire’ was held in London to celebrate the coronation of King George V. As part of the festival, an Inter-Empire Championships was held in which teams from Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom competed in events such as boxing, wrestling, swimming and athletics.

The CommonWhat?

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 independent and equal sovereign states. The Commonwealth is home to 2,4-billion people and includes both advanced economies and developing countries. 30 members are small states, many of which are island nations.

As nations began the process of succeeding from the British Empire in the early part of the 1900s, it was created, largely, to ease the process of British decolonisation. It was a way of maintaining global unity through shared language, history, and culture despite growing independence and self-governance of former British colonies.

Overall, the Commonwealth territories cover around 30-million square kilometres. Despite the geographic and demographic differences, these countries are united through their common values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

The nations entered into the Commonwealth do so voluntarily, and the government of any member nation can withdraw at any time, without consequence or obligation.

What’s all the fuss about?

The 2018 edition saw 6600 athletes and team officials take part in 23 sporting disciplines at 17 competition venues and eleven stand-alone training venues.

GC2018 hosted the largest integrated para-sport programme in Commonwealth Games history by hosting up to 300 para-athletes and 38 medal events across seven sports - an increase of 45% more athletes and 73% more medals compared to the para-sport competition staged at the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.

The swimming and athletics programmes doubled in size from previous games, while paratriathlon made its anticipated debut at GC2018, building on the great success of the able-bodied triathlon competition in Glasgow 2014 and the sport’s increasing profile wordlwide. The games will also see the first ever wheelchair marathon (T54) at a Commonwealth Games.

Tradition

The Queen’s Baton Relay is a Games tradition that celebrates the Commonwealth’s diversity, inspires community pride and excites people about the world-class festival of sports and culture to come. The Queen’s Baton carries a message from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II that calls the Commonwealth’s athletes to come together in peaceful and friendly competition. The GC2018 Relay was the longest and the most accessible ever, not just passing through, but spending quality time in each community it visited. The journey began on 13 March 2017 at Buckingham Palace and went on a 388-day journey through all nations and territories of the Commonwealth before arrivinge on the Gold Coast for the 21st Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony on 4 April 2018, where Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, removed the message from the Baton and read it aloud to officially open the games.

Cost and benefits for host cities

New Zealand has hosted the games three times: in Auckland in 1950, in Christchurch in 1974 and again in Auckland in 1990, and many believe Auckland has the ability to host again. After Durban, South Africa, withdrew from its bid to host the 2022 games due to the government being unable to fund the infrastructure, we must ask: Is it a beneficial investment for the host cities? Costs are said to run in to hundreds of millions of dollars, so do the financial benefits outweigh the cost?

The delivery of GC2018 saw Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Corporation (GOLDOC) employ over 1500 employees at its peak, along with up to 15 000 volunteers and up to 45 000 contractors, while GC2018 as a whole was expected to generate in excess of $2-billion (Australian) in economic benefit, ensuring the creation of jobs and a diverse economy – so, yes, the benefits do appear to outweigh the costs.

As our athletes reveal on TV – most of them were inspired to become athletes when they were children watching competitions on TV, and as New Zealand celebrates its medals and new sporting heroes, events like this continue to inspire children to share the dream in becoming the gold medallists of the future.

Sources:

https://budget.qld.gov.au/budget-highlights/gc2018/

Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation Annual Report 2016-17

https://www.gc2018.com/history-games

http://thecommonwealth.org