The extremely scenic Gold Coast, Australia, would in a few weeks play host to the 21st Commonwealth Games, 4 – 15 April. Following on the heels of Glasgow, Scotland, four years ago, Gold Coast would be seeking to rise to the occasion and even exceed the tremendous achievements of the former host.
Last June the St Vincent and the Grenadines hosted its segment of the Queen’s Baton Relay. The Queen’s Baton, unlike the Olympic Torch, is taken to all of the member countries of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), custodian of the quadrennial sporting spectacle. This event gives member countries a sense of belonging and ownership with the organisation and the Games. There is a strong sense of inclusion, not just from the mouthings of the leadership but in all aspects of the CGF.
St Vincent and the Grenadines, having first participated in this event in 1958 in Cardiff, Wales, will once more be fully engaged in the Gold Coast.
The Vincentian delegation to this year’s Commonwealth Games will include teams from the sports of Athletics, Cycling, Squash, Swimming, Table Tennis and Weightlifting.
In the history of this country’s participation in the Commonwealth Games, only boxing and athletics have thus far won gold medals while other medals were won in weightlifting.
The athletics gold medal, our last success, was won in 2010 at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India.
As always, expectations are that this time around the country could make it to the medal podium.
The Friendly Games
Over the years the name has change but the Games of the Commonwealth has always sought to distinguish itself from the Olympic and other multi-sport Games. The commitment has however has been to ensure that they are characterised, more than anything else, by friendship.
The first edition of the Games was held in 1930 in Hamilton, Canada with 400 athletes from 11 countries. The 20th edition of the Commonwealth Games, “a joyous and inclusive festival of sport and culture” was held in Glasgow in 2014 with more than 4500 athletes from 71 nations and territories engaged in sporting competitions spread over 11 days of sport.
Kingston, Jamaica, hosted the Games in 1966.
In a very real sense, the Commonwealth Games Federation has focused on the maintenance of friendly relations between the athletes of the Commonwealth.
While governments purport to belong to the Commonwealth, there is little evidence that the populations of member countries even know what they do. Across the globe, more people are aware of the quadrennial Commonwealth Games than of the Commonwealth itself, a sad indictment on the latter.
For all intents and purposes, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), is little more than a talk shop where nothing really happens.
On the other hand, the Commonwealth Games has grown into a major international sport movement.
In the latter part of 2015 the CGF approved its flagship strategic plan dubbed, Transformation 2022, “segmented into four priority areas that aim to transform the Movement’s predominate focus on hosting the Commonwealth Games to a wider vision to be realised by 2022 that is based on partnership, engagement and value generation. The strategic priority areas include: Innovative and Inspirational Games; Good Governance and Management; Strong Partnerships; and, A Valued Brand”.
The expectation is that the success of Gold Coast in April would give significant impetus to the realisation of the objectives of Transformation 2022 climaxing with the Games of the latter year in Birmingham, England.
It was with much sadness that the original winner of the bid to host the Games of 2022, Durban, South Africa, lost them due to the city’s failure to meet its own commitments to the CGF as per the signed agreement. This would have been the first time that the Commonwealth Games were going to be held on African soil.
Gold Coast 2018
First time Beach Volleyball
Because Gold Coast has one of the most beautiful stretches of beaches in the world, the CGF prevailed on the organising committee to include Beach Volleyball in this year’s edition of the Games. It took some doing but eventually all arrangements have been made and the sporting discipline would make its first appearance at the Games this year.
For the CGF, given the growing appeal of Beach Volleyball around the world, the event would be a major showpiece for the authorities and is sure to create important inroads in the global multi-sport arena.
The organising committee has also embarked upon a programme where its elementary schools are twinned with counterpart schools across the Commonwealth. In our case, the Kingstown Preparatory School has connected with the Worongary State School.
An update from the Kingstown Preparatory School reads, “…The students from Kingstown Preparatory School wrote in pairs, due to the class population while those from Worongary State School wrote individual letters during the exchange. The students where very excited about the idea of having a “pen friend” from across the globe. They wrote to each other speaking about themselves and their family. They also spoke about various activities that take place in both countries”.
The Worongary State School has undertaken a book drive that will see numerous books arrive in St Vincent and the Grenadines in the near future.
During the Commonwealth Games the Vincentian delegation would visit the Worongary State School and leave a few items from our country and from the Kingstown Preparatory School. Students from the school in Gold Coast will also be able to see some of our athletes perform and be part of the cheering section at these events.
While the International Olympic Committee boasts that the Youth Olympic Games scheduled for October 2018 would feature strong evidence of gender equity, it is late. The CGF is the first international multi-sport organisation to ensure gender equality across all events and in all areas.
Each sport on the Games programme would feature equal number of medal events for men and women. Every sport would feature equal numbers of male and female technical officials and international technical officials.
The CGF’s decision, taken some years ago, is consistent with its commitment to ensuring that women are treated equally and fairly in sport.
The Gold Coast therefore breaks new ground in terms of gender equity in the Commonwealth Games.
The 21st edition of the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, would be the first time that a quota system is being implemented. Hitherto every Commonwealth Games Association (CGA) could send as many athletes, entered in different sports, as it was able to afford. The CGF had however observed that the growing cost to host countries of unrestricted participation would soon render it impossible for some countries to even consider bidding to host the event.
The CGF’s decision is that the Games would be in full quota in 2022. However, the idea is that this year’s edition of the Games should be used as a trial for 2022 and so a modified version of the quota system was introduced.
CGAs were given an overall quota for Gold Coast based on the average participation over the past three editions of the Games (2006, 2010 and 2014). Within that allocation quotas were given for sports in which the CGA had participated, on average, in those three Games.
For the team sports and sports in which a CGA had not participated in the past three editions of the Commonwealth Games, potential participants would be selected based on their Commonwealth ranking.
All CGAs have been made aware that once the Games of the Gold Coast are completed all sports would have quotas established for future editions beginning in earnest with Birmingham in 2022.
There are many challenges for athletes from the northern hemisphere with the Games being held in the Gold Coast.
The Games are being held in April, which is the Autumn for Australia, just emerging from their Summer. For those of us in the northern hemisphere we are coming out of our preparation season and for some, into their indoor season.
The reality is that for runners, this is not a good time to compete if you are from the northern hemisphere. This is one of that some of the countries are unable to get the benefit of their best track and field athletes participating in the Games.
Another major challenge is the distance to Gold Coast from the Caribbean, for example. It is three days’ travel to get to the Gold Coast. This means that it would require another three to four days for an athlete to recover enough to compete at a relatively high level.
Acclimatising to the conditions in Australia constitutes another challenge to participating teams that have not had the benefit of a long pre-Games stay in the Gold Coast.
Australia has played host to numerous sporting events over the years including the Summer Olympics and the Commonwealth Games.
Our Vincentian team was last at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006.
One of the hallmarks of an Australian city hosting multi-sport Games has always been the remarkably high and distinctive level of voluntarism.
Many would argue that after Canada, Australia is amongst the most committed to voluntarism in sport.
Participating teams have always commented favourably on the eagerness of the thousands of volunteers to be of assistance at every turn, making one’s stay in the city and country all the more comfortable.
Conditions are usually ideal for top quality competition.
One would hope that this time around the Vincentian delegation would do well in the conditions provided and with the eager support of the staff and students of the Worongary State School.