Where to now for the Commonwealth Games?

Sharing the dream: England middle distance running champions Steve Cram and Seb Coe survey the scene at Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast ahead of the 2022 event in their home country. Picture: Rob Shaw
Sharing the dream: England middle distance running champions Steve Cram and Seb Coe survey the scene at Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast ahead of the 2022 event in their home country. Picture: Rob Shaw

Contrary to popular belief, the person faced with the toughest task at the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony was not the one who had to explain away prioritising politicians and “talent” show cast-offs over athletes.

It was the poor, unfortunate soul tasked with trying to sell Birmingham as the next host venue. 

The Midlands capital embodies the charming expression about not being able to polish a by-product of the digestive system rhyming with bird.

The subsequent sell deployed a rapper, choreographer, film-maker and “spoken word artist” (not a poet).

The result was a multi-cultural montage that left the Twittersphere wondering whether anyone in England’s second city speaks English and Commonwealth Games organisers wondering where exactly the four-yearly festival of sport was heading.

As the dust settles on the 21st Commonwealth Games, it is an apt time to assess whether it has come of age and grown into a mature and responsible individual or gone off the rails to become a drug-fuelled waster spurned by society eeking out an existence by living off its wealthy forebears. 

Eighty-eight years after the so-called Friendly Games began in Hamilton - the Birmingham of Canada - they appear destined to continue on the conveyor belt of three primary localities.

Oceania has now hosted the event eight times, the United Kingdom seven and Canada four.

Only three times has it strayed beyond those shores - to the capitals of Jamaica (1966), Malaysia (1998) and India (2010).

No country has hosted more Commonwealth Games than Australia and yet no Australian city has hosted it twice.

After Sydney (1938), Perth, (1962), Brisbane (1982) and Melbourne (2006), Gold Coast was the first non-state capital to land the honour suggesting Adelaide and Hobart need to get their act into gear.

Commonwealth Games mountain biking at Nerang.

Commonwealth Games mountain biking at Nerang.

With at least one of the “GC2018” welcome functions serving Boag’s Premium, Launceston might even get a look in.

The Gold Coast might be where Australian sporting codes go to die, but it was where the Commonwealth Games came alive.

With the opening and closing ceremonies plus all the track and field hosted at a magnificent venue endowed upon the city by the AFL, the Gold Coast sparkled in the Commonwealth spotlight.

The host destination knew only too well what its trump card was, and played it at every opportunity.

Queensland gloats in its nickname the Sunshine State, one part of the coast is called Sunshine and another Gold and Paradise, the Games logo resembled a sun rise and even the local footy team is called the Suns, even if they do exist largely under a cloud.

Overseas reporters were issued with free sunscreen, mini fans, broad-rimmed hats and keyboard sun shades - items strangely absent in Glasgow four years previously.

Without the sun, sand and surf of Queensland, Birmingham must look elsewhere for selling points as the 2022 Games complete the trifecta for England’s biggest three cities after London and Manchester enjoyed hosting rights in 1934 and 2002 respectively.

They may be rather looked down upon beyond Commonwealth shores, and positively mocked by our American allies, but the Games retain a relevant place on the sporting calendars of its 70 odd ... sorry, 70-odd nations.

Australia and New Zealand prepare for the men's hockey final.

Australia and New Zealand prepare for the men's hockey final.

The brainchild of an Adelaide-born son of a Yorkshire vicar, the event – much like the Commonwealth itself – has undergone several transformations to become what it is today.

In a series of letters to The Times newspaper in the 1890s, J. Ashley Cooper suggested a gathering variously described as “a pan-Britannia contest of our social purists”, “an Anglo-Saxon Olympiad” and “a festival of Empire sports”.

Thus was born the British Empire Games, which became the British Empire and Commonwealth Games then the British Commonwealth Games before finally dropping the B-word in 1974.

Their original mission statement speaks volumes for their ethos.

“They should be merrier and less stern, and will substitute the stimulus of novel adventure for the pressure of international rivalry,” it stated.

Jake Birtwhistle savours his triathlon medal success.

Jake Birtwhistle savours his triathlon medal success.

It is also worth noting that the original Games were not to include blacks or women – a clear sign of more discriminatory times – but would involve America, which the Brits still believed was a corner of their empire (take that Trumpy).

No finer explanation of the Commonwealth Games’ raison d’etre can be found than Ross Solly’s superb 2006 book The Irreverent Commonwealth Games, which began with the magnificent account of how South African sprinter Tom Lavery won 110-yard hurdles bronze in Auckland in 1950 despite struggling to hold his pants up the whole way following an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction.

Since the inaugural Games in 1930, they have visited 21 cities in nine countries.

The 2018 version was allegedly watched by 1.5 billion people and generated $2 billion for the Gold Coast economy as 10,000 athletes and officials contested 17 sports.

Birmingham landed the 2022 Games when Durban was forced to withdraw but claims to have 95 per cent of its venues complete and expects to generate a £526 million boost to the regional economy from the privilege.

Closing ceremony aside, the Gold Coast will be a hard act to follow.