A legacy of the former British Empire, the Commonwealth Games, the XXII edition of which was inaugurated last Friday in Birmingham (England) and will be held until August 9, rely on small countries and atypical sports to exist in Europe. shadow of the Olympic Games and other major international events.
Not easy to spend a year after the Olympic Games in Tokyo (Japan) and only five days after the end of the World Athletics Championships in Eugene (United States): for the past few days, packages have multiplied for the Commonwealth Games, organized every four years and which this year brings together 5,000 athletes representing 72 nations and territories, most of them former British colonies, competing in 19 disciplines. Latest defection to date, the Australian Kelsey-Lee Barber, just crowned world champion in javelin throwing for the second time. The bronze medalist from the last Olympic Games joins Olympic champions André De Grasse, Kirani James, Neeraj Chopra and British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith on the list of notable absentees. And it may not be over: doubts hang over the participation of the world’s gold trio of Jamaican sprinters Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson and Elaine Thompson-Herah.
Absences – counterbalanced by other big names such as swimmers Emma McKeon, Ariarne Titmus, Kaylee McKeown, Adam Peaty or cyclists Geraint Thomas and Mark Cavendish – which revive the debate on the legitimacy of such regional games which, like Mediterranean Games or Francophone Games, are often perceived as a relic of ancient times (the first edition dates back to 1930) and struggle to exist in an already overloaded international sports calendar.
“These other games aren’t the Olympics, but they tend to try to emulate them in terms of look, feel and impact. It’s just not possible or credible,” says Terrence Burns, former head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). “I believe that an event that aspires to be global but which, by definition, limits its base of participation to a limited set of nations and territories faces the challenge of attracting the interest of supporters on a global scale as well as that of the host city”, he continues, noting that by definition, “the potential for marketing and sponsorship revenue is limited”.
Bowls, lacrosse and kabbadi
For Birmingham, a former manufacturing city that was an unsuccessful candidate for the organization of the 1992 Olympic Games, and its region, hosting the competition certainly does not have an Olympic dimension, but it is nevertheless not insignificant from an economic point of view, with overall revenue estimated at one billion pounds sterling (1.2 billion euros). For Terrence Burns, the challenge for the Commonwealth Games is that they must find their own niche in order to “build (…) their identity accordingly”.
A job that the organizers of the event have tackled. Among their proposals, the program could no longer include only two compulsory sports – swimming and athletics –, the rest of the events being left to the choice of the host cities. The goal? Attract a wider audience and reinforce the particularity of the Commonwealth Games, which already give pride of place to several non-Olympic sports such as squash, netball and “bowls”, the British version of pétanque. Also this year, for the first time, women’s cricket. Other disciplines that are confidential but particularly popular in certain regions of the world, such as lacrosse in Canada or kabaddi in India, could thus be integrated in the long term.
“I think it would be a win-win situation for everyone because it would then open up the Commonwealth Games to other smaller countries and, for me, that is the way to go”, estimated in 2021 the president of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), Dame Louise Martin. Because the other advantage of the competition is to allow small nations of world sport to exist, which is not possible for them during major events, believes Michael Payne, former marketing manager of the IOC. “For many, this is their only moment on the world sporting stage with an opportunity to shine. (…) Because at the Olympic Games, they have no chance of getting a medal, ”he underlines.
Witness the efforts made by Sri Lanka (2 medals at the Olympic Games in 17 participations against 23 at the Commonwealth Games), weighed down by a serious economic crisis, to be present in Birmingham. “We want to stand like other nations before our flag, as a proud nation, upright, with our heads held high,” declared the head of the island delegation, Dampath Fernando.
Kiplangat wins the marathon
Meanwhile, on Saturday in Birmingham, Victor Kiplangat had to turn back after briefly taking the wrong turn in the marathon, but this slight detour did not prevent him from giving Uganda their first gold medal in discipline. Faced with the absence of a barrier, about a kilometer and a half from the finish, the 22-year-old Ugandan was misled by a vehicle which he followed on the wrong track for about 40 meters before making half turn. “The people riding the motorcycles confused me. Then they told me to turn around and I still managed to reach the finish,” he said. This slight misstep may have cost him the Commonwealth Games record, held by Ian Thompson (2h 9min 12sec) since 1974, but Kiplangat still won the event in 2 hours 10 minutes and 55 seconds , with more than a minute and a half ahead of his runner-up, the Tanzanian Alphonce Felix Simbu, bronze medalist of the London Worlds marathon in 2017. The Kenyan Michael Mugo Githae completed the podium.
A legacy of the former British Empire, the Commonwealth Games, the XXII edition of which was inaugurated last Friday in Birmingham (England) and will be held until August 9, rely on small countries and atypical sports to exist in Europe. shadow of the Olympic Games and other major international events. Not easy to spend a year after the Tokyo Olympics…