OPINION: On Thursday night I was caught watching six variously shaped men from New Zealand and Guernsey playing lawn bowls. In certain countries of the Commonwealth this would be considered an unnatural act. But in some ways this whole Commonwealth Games malarkey is an unnatural act. As Michael Caine might ask, what's it all about, Alfie?
It's a hard question to answer. At its best the Commonwealth Games is about participation and the thrill of competition. For some minor sports, like bowls and squash, it is the Olympics. Unfortunately the judge in Rwanda threw out that defence and sentenced me to five years of hard labour, covering bowls tournaments around the world.
To most of the world, the Commonwealth Games is an absurd anachronism. America doesn't get it at all. The Commonwealth Games was the answer to a question on a sometime edition of the game show Jeopardy and the three contestants looked is if they had just been asked to name the capital of Lesotho.
As one TV minstrel put it, "Imagine the Olympics without the United States, China and Russia. Then imagine a track meet dominated by sprinters from Wales and you have the Commonwealth Games."
Or, in the case of these Games, imagine a track meet where Usain Bolt only wants to run the relay, therefore justifying his appearance on promotional posters, and Yohan Blake, the world's second fastest man, reckons it's "not in my best interests" to compete. And now Mo Farah's pulled out to concentrate on the European Champs. If a lot of the athletes don't take the event seriously, then why should we.
Dame Kelly Holmes, the British athlete who won 800 and 1500 gold at the Athens Olympics answers by saying, "Don't tell me they're not relevant. But for the Games I would have not gone to the Olympics in 2004, let alone won two gold medals. Having the Games in Manchester two years before the Olympics gave me the belief again that, ‘I can still do this."'
For Holmes and most of the major sports and countries the Games is a psychological prep event for the bigger meets. This is surely true of Commonwealth countries like India, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.
Their audiences are far more interested in the Asian Games which begin in South Korea in September. The two billion dollar budget of the Asian Games is twice that of the Commonwealth Games and it embraces far more sports, many of which appeal to an Asian audience.
Thinking back on the ‘Holmes defence', I can't name a single medallist from the Manchester Games. I am sure some of you out there can give me chapter and verse - well done on your medals, but they don't exactly linger like Olympic gold.
But maybe this is to take the whole thing a little too seriously. Certainly the opening ceremony implied that the whole occasion is a bit of a send-up, a bit of fun. It's not too often that Valerie Adams is upstaged by a Scottie dog.
Indeed the pooches were a good deal more Scottish than some of the stars of the show. There was croaking Rod from Norf' London and John Barrymore from a galaxy near America. Okay, so Captain Jock was born in Scotland but, such is his love of the place, that he has houses in London and Cardiff.
It was all a bit of a confection, even down to the dancing Dunmore teacakes who strangely didn't indulge in a male kiss. Nor did the inflatable Nessie, as she swayed along like a giant inner tube to Captain Jock's strapline:
"We come for a land of heather
Where men wear kilts and women blether
Don't leave home without an umbrella
Be prepared for some Scottish weather."
Stroll on Rabbie Burns. How Val managed to smile after that was a triumph of competitive will.
It's hard to argue that the whole event isn't a bit of a nonsense. The Games was originally the idea of a former journalist from Canada. It cost Hamilton (in Canada) $100,000 to host the first British Empire Games. The idea was a bit of friendly competition and some colonial condescension.Hol
The idea now, is, hmm, still struggling here. The last time the Games were in Scotland, Edinburgh '86, they had to be bailed out by Capn' Bob Maxwell, the robber baron who made off with his employees' pension funds. It turned out he didn't bail anyone out at all.
That was left to a peculiar Japanese mate of Maxwell's, who was touted as a philanthropist who had cured leprosy, was currently 27 years of age and would live to 200. Turned out he was 87, a war criminal and a profiteer from gambling and allegedly opium.
The African countries didn't turn up that year and that might have been an end to it except, here we are again. I wonder what we would think if the Commonwealth Games were called the Kolonialreichspiele, a triumphant festival of all the countries that Germany and Italy colonised in their imperial pomp. It's an odd thought.
Perhaps not as odd as Billy Connolly, resident of New York, giving the annual Nelson Mandela sermon at the opening ceremony, when the current crimes of some participating Commonwealth countries might have been a bit more relevant.
Ho hum, that's all for now. I'm a bit tired. Stayed up past midnight urging on Andrea Hewitt in the triathlon. What a race. Despite being a Pom, I was rooting for Hewitt. That's the thing about the Commonwealth Games. It's a complete charade, but, like the 20 competing countries or territories who have never, ever won a medal, you just can't help joining in.
- Sunday Star Times
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