Scotland is hosting the Commonwealth Games (CWG) for the third time this year, having previously hosted them at Edinburgh in 1970 and 1986. The current edition of the games got off to a good start and has fared well so far. However, at previous two occasions they were met by boycott-threats as well as boycotts by fellow Commonwealth member states. Few months prior to the 1970 Games, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) invited South African all-white cricket team, to tour England. India, in accordance to her commitment towards anti-Apartheid struggle, along with 13 other African states threatened to boycott the Edinburgh Games if South Africa went ahead with the tour. The fear that boycott would financially spoil the games and pressure mounted up by Anti-Apartheid Movement from within the United Kingdom, the British Labour government was obligated to get MCC cancel the tour. (Similar boycott threats were again issued by India and African countries in 1973, a year before Christchurch Games, because South African rugby team was invited to tour New Zealand. The tour was later cancelled). 1986 Games, on the other hand, became an almost “whites-only” event as, out of total 59 Commonwealth nations, 32 African, Asian and Caribbean nations staged a boycott due to Britain’s continued sporting links with apartheid-era South Africa. During the 1970s and 1980s CWG (as well as other international sporting events) were successfully exploited by member states to isolate the Apartheid regime & further the struggle against racial discrimination in South Africa. Many believe that anti-Apartheid struggle was the most successful campaign by the Commonwealth. Protests and boycotts ended with the end of Apartheid regime in the early 1990s. Now, around every time the games are held, the question of its relevance in modern times is debated. The critique of this “poor man’s Olympics” often cite the absence of a few top athletes and lack of spectator interest in the games as reasons for its irrelevance. The charges of corruption and cost overruns in its organisation have further damaged its reputation. Have these games, which were created to spread the goodwill and understanding of the British Empire, after some 100 years later, really lost its shine and become irrelevant?
The CWG created history in 2002 by becoming the first fully inclusive international multi-sport event. This means that sporting events for people with disabilities would be held along with able-bodied sport events and the participating nations would have a common medal tally. With a total of 22 para-sport medal events, Glasgow 2014 will feature the largest number of Paralympic events in any edition of the CWG. In addition, intellectually impaired S14 category swimmers will compete for the very first time in 2014. Furthermore, CWG is increasingly becoming the stage where para-athletes are not just competing in able-bodied events, but are also winning them. Danielle Brown became the first English Paralympian to have competed in an able-body discipline at the 2010 New Delhi Games, and pick up a Gold medal. Born with Erb’s palsy, table tennis player Melissa Tapper is the first Australian para-athlete to join an able-body team at Glasgow. 2012 London Paralympics gold winners from Northern Ireland, Bethany Firth and Jason Smyth will participate in the main event alongside able-bodied contenders. Getting para-sport events hosted alongside the main event and para-athletes participating in same event as an able-bodied athlete is not so much for the disabled to compete against the able-bodied, to prove a point, as for much recognition, funding and equal treatment as able-bodied athletes. With CWG setting example, the International Olympics Committee signed an agreement with International Paralympics Committee that from 2012 London Games onwards, the host city of Olympic Games will also be obliged to host the Paralympic Games. It’s a huge leap in changing the attitude towards disability issues and para-sports. CWG further includes disciplines such as lawn bowls and netball, which do not feature in the list of Olympics. It is also a platform for nations like New Zealand for which it is the only multi-sport event outside of Olympics.
To many athletes, it still provides a valuable half-way point measuring stick to the next Olympic Games. It also exposes the athletes to the culture of Games Village which the grand prix meets or World Championships in their respective disciplines do not offer. True that a few high-profile athletes do give these games a miss but does it not create a level playing field for some of the lesser populated and average performing nations? Also, it’s not that all top athletes give it a miss every time. On the contrary, the long list of participants at these games contain names of many world champions, Olympic medalists and best athletes in most of the disciplines, and their presence should be valued more than the absence of a few. Europe’s attempt at instituting a multi-sport event in the modern times for the region (the first edition of European Games is scheduled to be held in Baku, Azerbaijan, in June 2015), and the ever growing legacy of Olympics and other regional/continental games, suggest that multi-sport events are here to stay. It would be unwise to let these games, which boasts of a century old legacy, with 71 strong participating nations and territories, lose its shine and slowly become irrelevant, for there will be others to fill the gap. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Afro-Asian Games could have mounted serious threat to the CWG, had it succeeded. What the Commonwealth Games Federation could do to rejuvenate the games and to make it friendlier to be hosted, especially by developing nations, is probably make it a less expensive affair, while including more non-Olympic sports, that too, the ones which are traditionally popular in the Commonwealth nations.
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