How the Commonwealth Games provide a path for the improvement of sporting competition as well as both individual and collective performance.
With 2018’s Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast now completed in totality, it is interesting from this American expat’s perspective on why there has been so much negativity towards the event. Yes, there are issues to do with who benefits most financially and whether the opening and closing ceremonies were to people’s likings but what interests me most, are both the complaints and comments about the game’s meaninglessness. To specify, many have commented that the value of participation and even earning a medal here is of little to no value; only the Olympics or top level of the said sport is worth talking about. This is not only technically incorrect within the statement itself but the reasons for such are limited in perspective.
One of the most common reasons given is that the Games represent an archaic and outdated worldview of when the sun never set on the British Empire. There is no denying that the contest is the rebranded Empire Games to reflect the evolving zeitgeists of 1954s British Empire and Commonwealth Games (Vancouver, Canada), the final change dropping the title “Empire” in 1970’s British Commonwealth Games (Edinburgh, Scotland), and most recent change in 1978 dropping the “British” to simply The Commonwealth Games. Yet, as we can see even from the name changes, this opinion that the games stand for and represent the classical sense of empire simply by its origins is, at best, reductionist.
Rather, by banding together, these countries are able to compete at an international level in the same way many countries with lesser populations or economic investment would be able to in between their local and unrestricted international representations. For example, the “All-State” and similar titles bestowed on athletes in the United States, a country with 350 million legal residents and roughly an additional 50 million more with varying documentation. Then add the interstate and national competition to the equation and it is easy to see the value in these games in even a domestic setting where there is a critical mass of population. Not each state has the same economic support or numbers in population to compete at the same level but that is not to say that this makes interstate competition a waste of time. Likewise, the Commonwealth of Nations has around 2.4 billion, around one third of the world’s population. Even without India’s approximate 1.2 billion, a sixth of the earths population banded together between 52 other states being represented by 70 other teams dwarfs that of the United States.
Australia, a country with 24.13 million people has such a disproportionate strength in the games even when compared to India and others countries being represented. There are plenty of countries with the capability to compete at greater levels internationally but simply do not have the ability to do so on their own with the limited numbers in domestic competition. This is the core beauty of the Commonwealth Games. It raises the bar for some while giving a great practice between domestic and international competition for others. Other smaller and established countries do not have the ability to come together and compete in the same large-scale and organised fashion that the Commonwealth Games provide. It is simply too costly and, from a cultural perspective, lacks and binding ties with identity to motivate or justify the exercise. With this said, it is clear to see the games as a gap filler between other domestic, regional, and international competitions not afforded to other nations.
It can be argued that the reason for the goal for, for example, the 50 states in the USA or the four nations of Great Britain working together in competition works because, at the end of the day, they all compete under the banner of the US and UK and this is what drives the engine to compete within each other. However, this is flawed because, though this is the case with the former, the latter of the two tends to divide in many competitions such as the rugby league, rugby union, and soccer World Cup competitions. However, this is not the case in the Olympics where the UK remains unified. Therefore, the perceived motivation of a collective good in the greater scheme is not only a moot point from this but shows that there is still a strongly individual and localised motivation to compete.
Herein lies the advantage. From a fan engagement and, arguably, economic perspective compare the parallel stories of New Zealand’s All-Blacks and Australia’s Wallabies from 1987 to date. The former are from a smaller country but invested in as many seamless transitions from childhood to international representation. The clearest difference is their investment into their national competition as a level between that of the senior club sides and Super Rugby. Australia, as of the 1990s, was of the Reaganomics mindset of a top-down approach believing that if the Wallabies were good, the country would follow, watch, and create future players that would represent the country strongly. There was no national competition between the local clubs and Super Rugby until the National Rugby Competition was launched a few years ago long after the country had lost so much interest in their once great side and stopped producing players as dominant as they once were between 1991 and 2003.
The analogy is clear, though the Commonwealth Games are the place for the pinnacle level of competition for many sports and athletics featured here, for the rest, as in the case of the prior rugby example, there needs to be a stepping stone of attainable reach between each level of competition and by offering this opportunity in the form of the Commonwealth Games, value is not only created but increased in the same way New Zealand’s rugby union has thrived whereas Australia’s has struggled. As such, the Commonwealth games despite complaints of not being a true international competition and other socio-political gripes, provides a beneficial and requisite service in improving athletes and nations though the gap it fills between levels of international competition.