Commonwealth Games, do we need them?

The Commonwealth Games: do we really need them? Their strength is as an alternative to the Olympic Games for those sports that don’t gain Olympic exposure and as a spotlight for those nations that have little chance of Olympic medals.

My personal interest in Commonwealth Games has been intermittent over the years. Brisbane 1982, Kuala Lumpur 1998, Gold Coast 2018 the three I have found the most captivating — and that mainly because they were in similar time zones to my own and I had the free time to pay attention.

Also helping matters this time around is the fact that Channel 7 offered live streaming of the world feeds of each of the sports through its premium app. Forking out $20 for the ten days was in my view well worth it to be able to pick and choose whichever events I wanted without having to sit through the dross and jingoism of 7’s mainstream coverage.

For me, there were four key principles to enjoying these Commonwealth Games:

  • Disregarding the sports I don’t like and focusing on the one’s that interested me the most;
  • Ignoring the medal count, except to see which nations were scoring medals for the first time;
  • Following the fortunes of certain leading athletes/teams from countries other than Australia;
  • Not watching the opening/closing ceremonies live, at least not the “entertainment” components.

Sports I didn’t pay attention to: Boxing, Diving, Gymnastics (both artistic and rhythmic), Shooting, Squash, Track Cycling, Weightlifting, Wrestling.

And Swimming. While I did watch a handful of finals one evening, I find the Aussie hubris that comes with almost total domination of the pool constantly unsettling and embarrassing. The swimmers are fabulous athletes but the Team Australia nonsense and flag-waving is unnecessary.

The sports I gave the most attention during Gold Coast 2018? Hockey was number one by far. Others high on my list: netball, sevens rugby, athletics (and in particular the para-sports), triathlon, mountain cycling, badminton; and when I had time, lawn bowls and table tennis.

It almost goes without saying that I appreciate the para-sports events as much as anything. There can never be a full program of para-sports into the Commonwealth Games (or indeed Olympics) — the cost would be prohibitive — but organisers have come up with a decent mix this time.

Not that I’m beyond feeling a bit of Aussie nationalism, I’m no zombie. The greatest single moment for me was watching Kurt Fearnley take out the T54 mens marathon. Madi de Rozario in both the womens T54 marathon and 1500 metres was outstanding. Isis Holt in the T35 100 metres.

The Kookaburras’ unbeaten triumph in the mens hockey event was a huge highlight for me. The silver-medal efforts by the Hockeyroos and the womens Rugby team were tense if ultimately disappointing. The Diamonds’ on-the-siren loss to England in the netball final was heartbreaking, yet at the same time such a joyous occasion for the winners, and one can expect it to be a big catalyst for the sport back in the UK.

Among winners from other countries, there was Kyron McMaster, the mens 400m hurdles champion who was the first gold medallist from the British Virgin Islands; Mary Kom, the 45–48kg female boxer who was such a sentimental favourite in India; and Ndodomzi Ntutu, the mens T12 100m champion, who thanked me on Twitter last night for giving him a shout out on the night he won his gold medal.

Much has been said about the closing ceremony. I find channel 7’s outrage over the proceedings disingenuous, but it would be better for organisers to keep the ending simple, low-key, and celebrate the participants — athletes, officials, volunteers — and not make it all about the musicians, politicians and TV-watching couch potatoes.

It will all happen again in Birmingham in 2022, but I wonder about the Commowealth Games’ future after that? Cities are starting to run scared away from major multi-games events such as this and the Summer and Winter Olympics. Perth is talking about a bid for 2026 or 2030, but perhaps the World Athletics Championships is a better goal — and one that promotes the city to a broader audience than just the “Commonwealth of Nations”.

But my advice for now: celebrate your heroes, find out when their next event is on, cheer for them. Don’t wait for the next Olympics. Support them now.