By Alan Hubbard |
Shame about the Commonwealth Games. Not that they are not providing some decent entertainment from the Gold Coast – after all, no-one does summer sports better than the Aussies – but it is just that back here in Blighty, as in much of the rest of the world, they seem to be passing us by. Once again.
Here the Games are strictly for the birds – the night owl variety. Unless you are a shift worker or insomniac like me who is used to staying awake until the early hours to watch live big fights from the United States, then it is hard to appreciate what is going on Down Under.
Most of the live action takes place while Europe is slumbering, and so much else is happening to occupy our waking hours that the Commonwealth Games largely have been lost in a welter of news about other major events, with the climax to the Premier League season, the Champions League, the FA Cup, the Masters and world heavyweight title fights et al.
Newspaper coverage is relatively limited. For instance, to find out anything about the Games you needed to flick back 18 pages from the start of the sports section of the popular Mail on Sunday last weekend, for just two thirds of a page from its lone reporter on the Gold Coast.
Television is doing their best but the live coverage is mainly for the bleary-eyed only, and daily news bulletins seem to clash with the evening soaps.
Even in the wee-small hours you can be torn between live bowls from the Gold Coast on the Beeb or Live from the Apollo on Dave.
The BBC is screening more than 200 hours of action and analysis. It will be interesting to see what sort of viewing figures it attracts.
Even in Australia, where the Games are always hugely popular, the build-up has been overshadowed by the cricket ball-tampering scandal.
So have the Commonwealth Games become the Forgotten Games?
Just a few days ago my insidethegames colleague Liam Morgan posed the pertinent question of whether the Commonwealth Games still have a relevance, quoting the alleged comments by Usain Bolt from the build-up to the Glasgow Games of 2014 that they were a “bit sh**”.
I share Liam’s conclusion that there is no definitive answer but those who compete, have relatives or friends who do, or pay to watch, will rightly insist that of course they are worthwhile. And you cannot argue with that.
Yet even back in 2010 I was asking here whether the Commonwealth Games had passed their sell-by date after the Indian Government had expressed their deep unhappiness at the withdrawals from that year’s event in New Delhi by assorted members of sport’s glitterati.
This included athletics’ principal boy Bolt, England’s cycling track queen Victoria Pendleton, her Scottish pedaling pal Sir Chris Hoy and leading gymnasts Beth Tweddle, Daniel Keating and Louis Smith.
As the years pass, these Games seem to cease to have sufficient status to remain as a major attraction for sport’s A-listers.
The Commonwealth Games have become devalued, just as the Commonwealth title has in boxing and a number of other sports. I do not say this lightly, having attended almost as many Games as I have my dozen Olympics, and I enjoyed them all.
They are not labelled the Friendly Games for nothing. By and large they have been a joy to witness and report on, providing a fund of good tales and happy memories.
They may not have the cachet of the Olympics, nor would you expect them to have as by comparison they are a village fete. This is not to disparage them but to appreciate them for what they are – or rather, were.
Who really cares about them in the United States, South America, most of Europe, much of Asia (e.g Japan and China), the Middle East or the Mediterranean?
The Friendly Games now exist uneasily in a target-obsessed era when friendlies in sport have become meaningless.
There is now serious rivalry from the African Games, Asian Games, the South East Asian Games, the Pan-American Games, the Mediterranean Games, the European Games, the Youth Olympics and an increasing number of individual sport World and European Championships.
These all seem to coincide and bring fixture congestion in the same year, and take priority as far as competitors are concerned.
However, it is true that they are an event which allows some of the world’s little people, from the Falklands to Guernsey, the Isle of Man to Tonga, to showcase whatever sporting prowess they may possess.
A Commonwealth Games medal is a decent little trinket to hang around the neck but it does not possess the market value of an Olympic or World Championship one. That seems a prime reason why so many of sport’s superstars can’t be bothered to turn up.
The problem with the Commonwealth Games is that, rather like the Commonwealth itself, they have become something of an anachronism.
Hard as they have tried, it still cannot totally shake off the remaining vestiges of colonialism, lingering from the days of inception in 1930 when they first were the British Empire Games. They were then the British Empire and Commonwealth Games and the British Commonwealth Games before finally the Commonwealth Games in 1978.
Subsequently there have been some strong arguments as to whether or not we actually need a Commonwealth any more, and if this should be the case, why do we need a Commonwealth Games?
Personally I hope they continue for some years to come. I would be sad to see them redundant but I fear they are becoming so in terms of co-existing with the escalating major sporting competitions now going on around the world.
Sport’s international calendar is incredibly congested. I suspect that, in any case, the way international sport will burgeon over the next four years the dear old Commonwealth Games will become even less of a magnet for the superstars by the time Birmingham 2022 comes around.
As I have suggested before, perhaps it is time to start revamping with a new format, perhaps even a new title for the quadrennial sportsfest.
Time to perhaps scale them down and give the shop window to some of those disciplines which never get a look-in at the Olympics. Things like water-skiing, darts, snooker, ballroom dancing and acrobatic gymnastics (all of which would bring even more glory to our Home Nations).
I’m delighted that squash, outrageously snubbed by the Olympics, already has a platform.
Time, perhaps, to celebrate a “common wealth” of games rather than a Commonwealth Games?
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.