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Commonwealth Games would do well to remember its past

Australia has the chance to take home two gold medals in basketball. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
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15th April, 2018

Here’s a radical innovation that might save future Commonwealth Games from the controversy of the Gold Coast closing ceremony.

To open the Games, just have the competitors march in behind their countries’ flags No brass bands, no mega-super-duper alleged entertainment, no light shows, no whizbang technology, no nationalistic displays.

Ditto for the closing ceremony.

Just the competitors enjoying their day in the sun, or night of nights.

Except that wouldn’t be a radical innovation. That’s how Olympic-Commonwealth Games used to be.

In more innocent times, they weren’t about which country could put on the best nationalistic display, attract more investment, or media companies bidding for the rights. They were about the competitors and the competition.

Not entirely innocent, of course.

Go back to the early modern Olympics and find examples of cheating. And Adolf Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics is always cited as the supreme propaganda example, with Jesse Owens’ four gold medals also cited as the example of the human spirit transcending and beating Hitler’s dream of a masterful Aryan race.

But the modern Olympics as propaganda exercise really took off with Moscow’s stunning 1980 ceremonies. It was gold, gold for Moscow, gold as the Soviet empire showed its mettle.


Since then, every Games has sought to top its predecessors in ceremony spectacle.

Ironic that a former Games swimmer and now-television host Johanna Griggs should criticise the closing ceremony, when she is part of the whole syndrome.

After all, the Melbourne ceremony was the biggest TV rater of 2006, and would the Games attract the same television rights if there were no ceremonies, with the competitors just accompaniment to the main event?

But then, Griggs is too young to remember when she and other competitors would have been the stars of the opening-and-closing shows.

Just her and her fellow competitors marching in and out.

As always, examples will be cited of competitors exemplifying the true Games spirit. Australian female distance runners waiting for an also-ran to finish and applauding her; Kurt Fearnley’s romantic end to his fabled career as a wheelchair athlete by winning gold, then being chosen to carry the flag.

Fortunately, there is a solution that can restore the original concept. Have the host city stage the Games as they once were, with the competitors as the opening-and-closing stars.

Let other cities bid for the rights to stage opening and closing ceremonies for telecast, mega spectaculars without the athletes as necessary encumbrances.


Think of all the extra money to be made, the extra ratings, the extra exposure.

This is just a fond fantasy, of course.

The original Games concept and swifter, faster, higher has gone the way of the dinosaur; there can be no end to closing ceremonies. Only dinosaurs would wish for a simpler time.