Swimming - Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games - Men's 50m Freestyle - Heats - Optus Aquatic Centre - Gold Coast, Australia - April 9, 2018. (REUTERS/David Gray)
If you were to take an informal survey of people at your work or school, or even on the street, and asked them what they thought about the Commonwealth Games, you’d probably get as many opinions as people. The answers would range all the way from assurances that it is way better than the Olympics, through to questions about its relevance in this day and age.
There’s no doubt some of the love comes from the fact that, unlike in the Olympics, Australia is always a favourite to bag a heap of gold medals. We generally punch above our weight when it comes to sport, anyway, but when you take powerhouses like the USA, China or Russia out of the running we go from plucky underdog to one of the bigger kids on the block.
No Mere Imitation
But, it would be unfair to paint the Commonwealth Games as simply the Olympics Lite, a watered down competition that gives countries like England and Australia a better chance of winning events, or a hangover from a bygone empire. While the rest of the world may not take much interest, there are a number of reasons why the Commonwealth Games not only remain relevant, but are actually a better sporting event.
Some of its strengths do depend on our shared Commonwealth heritage and history. The events are much more to our sporting tastes—I’d rather watch netball or cricket when it features than something like the luge. But, there are other qualities that should matter to any sporting fan, wherever they come from.
For the sake of the sport
The fact that it is smaller than the Olympics, meaning less money at stake and a smaller television audience to be wooed, is not necessarily a bad thing. It has always seemed to me that the actual sports matter more, and that people compete more for the honour than the pay cheque. You also get to see a whole range of countries and not-countries represented who would never make the Olympics, yet deserve their change on a world stage.
The look of excitement and joy on the faces from smaller territories and nations, sometimes numbering in single figures as they march out under their flags, is enough to warm the heart. Try telling them that the Commonwealth Games don’t matter!
All in this together
And, it is far more inclusive. Disabled athletes don’t compete at a separate event like the Paralympics, instead the para-sport program is fully integrated, and the athletes acknowledged as full members of their nations’ team—as they should be. And, the women’s and men’s programs at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games are identical; something the Olympics hasn’t yet managed.
More than a relic
The Commonwealth Games remain a much needed celebration of things that bring us together, whether that is a love of sport or our shared history. Like the Commonwealth itself, it is easy to be cynical, to see them as a relic from a bygone age or an attempt to hold on to past glories.
But, as with the association of countries it celebrates, I’d rather see it as a way to celebrate unity in an increasingly divided world. Many of the nations involved may have moved in different directions, but taking the time to focus on what we have in common and putting aside our differences should never become a thing of the past.
David Goodwin is the Editor of The Salvation Army’s magazine,War Cry. He is also a cricket tragic, and an unapologetic geek.
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