Whither the Commonwealth Games

10968The 20th edition of the Commonwealth Games officially opened on Wednesday last, 23 July, in a truly warm and welcoming manner evident in the cultural package presented to the world.
The commencement of the latest edition of the Commonwealth Games has given Glasgow a level of global attention that it more than deserves after spending the last six years in preparing to be gracious hosts to the Commonwealth Games Associations (CGA) of the 71-member Commonwealth.
Glasgow has been able to garner some of the best athletes in the Commonwealth for the two-week exciting sport spectacle dubbed, The Friendly Games, which had their origin in 1930.
Usain Bolt, the reigning Olympic and World Champion in the sprint events has made up his mind to compete in Glasgow, a feat that has been commended by the organisers and a boon to athletics fans across the world. England is boasting among its team some of the gold medal performers of the London Olympics of 2012 while Grenada’s Olympic gold medallist, Kirani James, is very much present and ready to grab hold of yet another title. Trinidad and Tobago hopes to do well in both athletics and swimming
Glasgow has done very well in getting itself ready to host the Commonwealth and is hopeful that the Games lives up to the high expectations of everyone who has followed the progress through to this stage.
The Commonwealth Games of 2018 is already in the hands of the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. Edmonton, Canada and Durban, South Africa, have already confirmed their bids to host the Games of 2022. Samoa will host the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2015 while our neighbour, St Lucia, will be the first Caribbean country to host the Youth Games in 2017. The foregoing however does not overshadow the fact that many are concerned about the future of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) and with it the Commonwealth Games.
Over the past few years the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) has been discussing the future of the Games – Commonwealth Games and Commonwealth Youth Games – because times have changed and participation numbers at the events are growing.
It must be remembered that the Commonwealth Games is perhaps still the only such event that does not yet have sport-specific standards established. This has led to participating CGAs taking larger teams that they would be able to carry to other such events in which they are involved.
The Commonwealth Games
The 20th Commonwealth Games, which opened in Glasgow earlier this week, has more than 6,000 athlete sand officials in attendance. The numbers have increased well beyond what existed in the case of the Games that were held in Delhi, India, four years ago.
There is a feeling that if a quota system is not quickly introduced the number of participants would continue to increase at a rate that would, almost inevitably, result in a loss of potential host cities, countries and their governments.
Host cities have to provide accommodation, meals and transportation to the participants in addition to ensuring that there are appropriate facilities that meet the standards established by the respective International Federations (IF).
Recent global financial crises have done much to impact hosts of mega sporting events and the Commonwealth Games may well not be an exception.
Perhaps one of the more critical issues relate sot the performance standards of participants at the Commonwealth Games. It has been a major challenge for organisers to get the best athletes from the Commonwealth to attend. Some see this as resulting from the fact that the emphasis has been on encouraging participation while de-emphasising performance. They see this as a consequence of the absence of established performance criteria for qualifying to get to the Games.
Lower performance standards negatively impact global appeal and therefore limit the opportunities for the Commonwealth Games to garner sponsors as well as generate revenues from the sale of television rights. In the case of Glasgow television rights have proven to be a hard sell for the organisers.
Caribbean countries, for all their numbers at the Games do not appear anxious to pay for coverage of their participating athletes.
The numbers game
The larger the number of participants to the Commonwealth Games the greater the financial demands on the host countries.
Given that there are no quotas established most national associations are only too eager to send as many athletes to the Games as possible, especially since, as happens in the case of St Vincent and the Grenadines and several smaller countries, they are not the ones footing the bill.
It is therefore not surprising that some CGAs have begun to establish their own performance standards in an effort to place some limits on the expenses that they occur when fielding their national representative teams to the Commonwealth Games.
Increased numbers mean that the staff size has to be significantly larger. In Glasgow there are 1444 staff members on board.
Larger number of athletes to the Games by any CGA means an increase in the number of team officials to manage them at the event.
Larger numbers in attendance mean that more food must be provided. More cars and buses are required to take them to and from competition in a timely manner.
The host country would be compelled to provide more volunteers to cater to the large numbers participating in the Games. Volunteers have to be provided with uniforms and meals. In the case of Glasgow there are 15,000 volunteers engaged to realise a successful event.
The security requirements and attendant costs are significantly increased given larger numbers of participants at the Commonwealth Games.
In these times governments are wary about the expenses they incur and are far more concerned today about engaging in cost benefit analyses regarding their undertakings than hitherto.
There are some who argue today that while there are still cities bidding to host the Commonwealth Games many that would wish to do so are unwilling to enter the race to win the bid given the seemingly uncontrolled nature of the Commonwealth Games.
The discussion on the possible introduction of quotas for the Commonwealth Games has begun. One proposal is to cap the number of athletes and officials at 6500. If this happens then the numbers would be split amongst the different sports on the competition programme allocating numbers based on criteria such as attractiveness to national and international audiences, global standing, impact on the Games as well as the nature and cost of the facilities required for training and competition, to name a few.
It is common that once a quota system is established for a sport the governing body, the IF, is forced to introduce standards in order to have a level playing field to determine who actually gets to attend. As far as the Organising Committee of the Games is concerned the quota system is designed to impact the overall performance of participants at the Games.
As it now stands, the establishment of some sort of quota system may well be the only way to keep a cap on the number of participants at the Commonwealth Games if it is to survive.
The onus must be placed on the CGAs to prepare strategic plans aimed at developing quality athletes that can earn their places on national teams to the Commonwealth Games rather than what currently exists, feel confident that every four years they are guaranteed a trip to the Games regardless of performance standards.
Arrangements can be made, as is done in the case of other multisport Games, to allocate universality places in the different sports to CGAs whose athletes have not met set performance criteria to have some presence at the participation level.
The reality is that after the Central American and Caribbean Games in Mayaguez, the proprietor of the Games, the Central American and Caribbean Sports Organisation (CACSO) took Puerto Rico, in 2010, the decision, to introduce quotas. The rationale was the performance standards at the Games and the impact its continuance could have on the future of the event.
The CGF may well be at the same juncture in its own future at present. Consideration must be given to the future of the Commonwealth Games. Important questions include:
Is it that the Commonwealth Games is the friendly Games and that it is a free for all?
Do performance standards have any place in the Commonwealth Games?
Can host cities accept the absence of any capacity to generate revenue from the sale of television rights?
Can the CGF exist on the near-absence of a sound revenue stream from the quadrennial Games?
The Commonwealth Games is an integral part of the Commonwealth but it does not always appear so. Heads of Commonwealth nations, with few exceptions, speak little of the CGF and the Commonwealth Games. They do not give due recognition to the ideals of the Games or to its objectives in keeping the peoples of the organisation together through sport and culture.
The royal family, with the greatest of respect, hardly speak of the Commonwealth Games outside of their presence at CGF General Assemblies and opening ceremonies of the sporting spectacles.
Many CGAs are concerned that the contribution of the Commonwealth Games to the Commonwealth is not acknowledged and this is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the way the CGF is treated.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government do very little to foster meaningful discussion of the role of the Games and its future.
Recent discussions on whether or not the CGF’s headquarters should be relocated from the United Kingdom brought to the fore the very low level of support the organisation receives from what is supposed to be its parent body.
The presence of a member of the royal family making speeches at auspicious occasions and the relatively limited financial assistance received from the British Government do no reflect the importance of the CGF and its impact on the youths of the Commonwealth. Perhaps the future of the youths matter no more to the Commonwealth and so they choose to ignore them for the most part.
Perhaps it is a case of the Commonwealth nations becoming so caught up in their own economic problems that they forget the youths among their populations outside election time even as they play to the electorate lovely platitudes of the importance of youth to the future of their respective nations.
The future of the Commonwealth Games is inextricably bound to that of the CGF. The latter has meaning to the youths of the organisation we call the Commonwealth.
Consideration must therefore be given to whether the Commonwealth is an organisation we still need, its relevance to all of us within it and the future.