POSTED: April 5th 2018

JOHN GOODBODY: Commonwealth Games still worth holding

The Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games are taking place April 4-15, 2018 / Getty Images
The Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games are taking place April 4-15, 2018 / Getty Images

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) The Commonwealth Games began this week on the Gold Coast of Australia. But even in Britain, supposedly the 'mother nation' of the Commonwealth, one would scarcely know.

The newspapers and the electronic media has been largely concerned with the climax of the Premiership and the European Champions League in football and the return of 'Tiger Woods' as a possible winner of the Masters' golf.

Any prominence in Britain of the Commonwealth Games, which has attracted 71 nations and territories, has largely been due to the BBC, the publicly-funded broadcasting organisation, which is screening more than 200 hours of action and analysis. It will be interesting to see its viewing figures, given that many of the live events occur in the early or late mornings, which do not usually bring in big audiences.

Even in Australia, where the Games are traditionally hugely popular, the build-up to the present event has been overshadowed by the ball-tampering scandal, which enveloped their cricket team in South Africa and been a constant presence on their front pages as well as the back for the last 10 days.

For the Australians, these Games therefore have a cathartic element. When Mark Knowles, a veteran hockey player, was chosen to carry the flag in the opening ceremony, the Australian newspaper the Courier Mail stated: "His is a sporting story of love not money, of sincerity rather than sledging, of hard yakka"(physical work)" not hubris."

Peter Beattie, the organising chairman, put it even more bluntly: "Cricket has obviously damaged our national standing but the Commonwealth Games will restore it, very simply."     

Interest in the events should certainly escalate over the next week, as it should, because some of the sport is of the highest class, especially in the pool and some of the track events, albeit without the attraction of the now-retired Usain Bolt.

More than a million tickets have been sold for the 275 events in 18 sports and the Australians will particularly revel in their ambition to finish ahead of England in the medal table.

Yet, the competition has always been known as 'The Friendly Games', because the overall standard is, of course, of a lower and less intense level than at the Summer Olympics. Everyone also speaks English and so there is easy communication between the competitors.

There had been fears for the future of these Games when Durban -Africa has never staged the event -failed to pay an early down payment to the Commonwealth Games Federation. The South African city had been awarded the 2022 Games and it was Birmingham in England, who has subsequently stepped in to be the host city.

The financial support of the British Government might not have been so forthcoming, had it not been for Brexit. The fact that with Britain looking for new trade deals after it leaves the European Union has meant that it will need all the friends across the world it can get. And where better than among the nations of the Commonwealth?  A successfully organised Games in 2022 may help to show the Commonwealth that Britain is efficient and also open and receptive for business. That is the theory anyway.

 In any case, it is particularly important for Britain to ensure that the Games continue because they are the outstanding manifestation of the existence of the Commonwealth, countries with a common heritage. Together with their Youth Games, which began in 2000, they are the only time when the people of all the member counties come together.

As we saw most recently in Glasgow in 2014, the Games can generate huge enthusiasm among the spectators and competitors. I hope and indeed expect the same to occur on the Gold Coast over the next 11 days.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2016 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 13th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

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