Let these anachronistic Games flourish

It's time to sit back and enjoy the Commonwealth Games.

The Birmingham-based event today bursts into wider appeal. It is under way, and it will again be popular.

We will barrack for Otago and Southland competitors and New Zealand stars and teams. We will see some shine, brightening our wet winter and national funk.

The Commonwealth Games logically should have fizzled years ago. And yes, it is struggling to find hosts and relevance.

And yes, Jamaican and Canadian track winners from the just-completed World Athletics Championship have pulled out.

The Commonwealth itself is weird. It is a throwback to British colonialism, a motley collection of 72 states and territories.

Strangely, it now also includes two nations with little connection to Britain, Mozambique and Rwanda. It has no obvious point.

There are no trade benefits or defence and foreign policy alignments.

It lacks any organisation structure to make any practical difference.

The event — which began in Hamilton, Canada, in 1930, was called the British Empire Games, then the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, the British Commonwealth Games and, finally, just the Commonwealth Games.

The Commonwealth Games Federation spouts highfalutin words about "humanity, equality and destiny". Look around many Commonwealth nations and the words hardly ring true. The motto is the "Games for Everyone". What does that mean?

Yet, all these nations and territories maintain this loose voluntary association, and outsiders have wished to join. The Commonwealth makes up a third of the world’s population, from India with 1.4 billion people to Niue with 1600.

Yet, the Games will engage lots of attention from within much of the Commonwealth.

Yet, more than 5000 athletes and 280 teams from 20 sports will be striving to win gold. Some will glory in success; albeit on a smaller stage than the Olympics. And we will cheer them on, as we have in the past.

In certain disciplines — notably netball, women’s cricket and lawn bowls — the Games showcase the best of the best. They are Commonwealth sports. Rugby sevens attracts the top teams, and Australia and Canada bring world class to swimming. Cycling will be extremely competitive.

Squash, not an Olympic sport, will feature and other minority sports receive chances to attract national attention, and from a wider audience. Hockey, a relatively strong participation sport in New Zealand, receives a boost.

The Games are usefully placed halfway between the Olympics, although the Covid delay for the Tokyo Olympics disrupted this pattern.

New Zealand’s team, excluding late dropouts, is 233-strong from 19 sports and two para sports. The female tally is 54%, the highest female representation in New Zealand Commonwealth or Olympic history. The ages range from 16 to 75.

New Zealand snared 15 gold, 16 silver and 15 bronze medals at the Gold Coast four years ago. No doubt, the tables will be closely followed again.

Will Australia, as usual, lead the pack? Or can England, the other dominant nation, top them at home?

At least, the so-called "Friendly Games" is striving for relevance. It is the first major multisport event offering more medals to women than men. It also claims to be the first to be carbon neutral.

Rules have been instituted to back athletes’ right to protest — the complete opposite of the Olympics.

The Games federation "is supportive of expression and trust, respects and understands that athletes may want to make positive expressions of their values".

Comedian John Oliver in 2014 described the Glasgow Commonwealth Games as "the historic display of a once-mighty nation gathering together the countries it lost and finding a way to lose to them once more".

Indeed, in many ways both the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Games are anachronisms.

But that need not be a bad thing. Somehow, the Games still come together. They provide opportunities and they draw us in.

Let the Games begin — and let the Games flourish.

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