What is the point of the Commonwealth Games?

Commonwealth Games closing ceremony
The Commonwealth Games closing ceremony in Melbourne, 2006. Photo: Harro5, Wikimedia Commons

With the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony taking place tonight (look out Channel 9), it’s time to ask ourselves what the whole point of it was. With no nation that beat us in the medal tally at Rio taking part in the Games (the UK is split into its constituent nationalities) winning the most medals here seems a bit hollow. There were, however, some positives.

For Australian sport

Australia got to absolutely dominate a major international sporting event. Our athletes won about a third of the gold medals on offer at the Commonwealth Games – the most of any team by far. Even if England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland competed as the UK Australia would have won more. With 71 different teams taking part, this kind of result is impressive.

Coming in between Olympic events, where Australia has been sliding since Sydney 2000, the Commonwealth Games are a good chance to feel good about our athletes.

For para-athletes

For the first time at a major sporting event para-sports have been fully integrated into the schedule. Para-events have been taking place alongside the open sporting contests, and count equally towards the medal tally.

This has been great for the visibility of para-athletes, all of whom have overcome significant disability to compete in international sport. Seeing disabled and fully abled athletes treated equally at the Commonwealth Games is huge. These athletes have proven time and time again over their careers that disabilities do not define people.

For smaller sporting nations and territories

While Australia and England largely see the Commonwealth Games as a chance to continue their traditional sporting rivalry, smaller nations get the chance to compete on an international stage. Countries with less advanced sports facilities like Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Botswana have all medalled.

These less privileged nations also get to compete with the big guns at sports they normally don’t get a look into. The Kenyan netball team, for example, sprung a huge upset on New Zealand – whom they would normally not even be in the same league as.

Territories such as Scotland and Wales also benefit. These nationalities compete, and succeed, as independent teams at the Commonwealth Games, rather than as part of the UK conglomerate. Even the Isle of Man has its own team – and got a medal. For the members of these territories having the chance to compete under their own banner is a big motivator.

All in all, there are a lot of beneficiaries from the Commonwealth Games. The main problem with them is the sheer dominance of Australia, which hogs the medals. Perhaps next time around we should take a leaf out of the UK’s book, and compete as states and territories rather than one all-powerful team.