It has been fashionable for a while to denigrate the Commonwealth Games. They are a minor, pointless competition, it is said. They have no real international importance. I fundamentally disagree.
The Commonwealth Games are not the Olympics, and they never pretend to be. They are not a fully global event, they serve a very specific purpose.
For better or worse, the Commonwealth countries are united by a shared history of British colonialism, and a shared history. The Games give the Commonwealth a sense of Unity.
If you tell the Malawi netball team that the games don’t matter, after they defeated New Zealand, they would disagree.
If you tell those athletes from smaller nations, who would never have a chance of victory at the Olympics, that the games don’t matter, they would disagree.
If you tell the para-athletes, who have their chance to compete on the same playing field and in front of the same crowds as the able-bodied athletes that the games don’t matter, they would disagree.
For an event that is supposed to be substandard, there have been plenty of world records broken – a substandard games would not see that many records broken.
While not all countries compete, the records set prove that we are still dealing with top athletes.
These games offer a chance to emerge on the world stage. The number of athletes who have gone onto greater things after winning at the Commonwealth Games is countless.
The rising performances of the British nations in the Commonwealth Games has been closely associated with the great recent accomplishments of Great Britain at the Olympics. It also allows these nations to express a sporting identity for themselves separate from Great Britain. Look at Wales, for example, these games have shown that they can be successful in sports other than rugby.
Of course, some aspects need to be amended. Why, for instance, is basketball included as a sport when no real world-class teams or athletes compete – Australia being the only country in the top ten men’s FIBA rankings. It devalues the competition, and gives ammunition to those who classify the games as inferior.
Compare this with netball, where almost all of the competing teams are the best in the world – which means a victory for teams like Malawi is indeed something to be celebrated. The rugby sevens is similar, where the majority of the best teams in the world are Commonwealth members.
The exclusion of certain other sports is also strange. To have no sailing or rowing at the games is puzzling, considering their British origins, but since many smaller nations may not compete in these sports it is perhaps understandable.
The Commonwealth Games aren’t the pinnacle of international sport. They are not the greatest event in the world. But they are a chance to unite nations that at first sight do not have much in common.
The Commonwealth of Nations has seen better days, but the Commonwealth Games are finding their place in the world, a place that celebrates the achievements of both the large as well as smaller nations – some which can compete on the world stage, others which relish the opportunity this smaller event offers.