Sport Sporting festivals

Let the show go on

Written by Ben Blaschke

For many of us throughout the Asia-Pacific region, the Commonwealth Games pass by once every four years without registering a blip on our collective radar. After all, this mini-Olympics is reserved for the 53 nations that are or once were territories of the former British Empire, which means China isn’t involved, nor Japan, the Philippines, Cambodia, Korea, Thailand or Indonesia.

For others who are part of the Commonwealth – the likes of Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand – the Games are far more relevant given they all have an active involvement. Malaysians love watching their strong badminton teams fighting it out for gold just as Australians enjoy their powerful swimming squad breaking record after record.

But the Commonwealth Games also polarizes opinions with the debate over their relevance predictably arising every time they roll around. As usual, the 2014 Games in Glasgow has sparked renewed debate over whether or not the world needs the Commonwealth Games anymore.

The critics refer to them as the “Mickey Mouse” Games, claiming they aren’t in any way a representation of the best athletes on the planet given the absence of top sporting nations such as China, the USA, Russia and a number of European powerhouses.

Certainly that argument holds some merit. China and Russia have always been a strong force at the Olympic Games in disciplines such as diving and gymnastics. The swimming competition isn’t the same without the United States taking part.

But does that mean the Commonwealth Games has run its course? In our opinion absolutely not – just because they don’t hold the prestige of the Olympics doesn’t mean they don’t have their place. In fact, for many of those from the smaller Commonwealth nations, the Commonwealth Games is their Olympics – the pinnacle of their careers.

The argument that the Commonwealth Games “don’t really count” is a strange one. By that reckoning, does that mean football’s European Championship should no longer be contested either? After all there are plenty of similarities – it is run every four years wedged between the World Cup and with only European nations involved it lacks the presence of big guns like Argentina, Brazil and the rest of South America, emerging powers such as the USA and of course the Asian and African continents.

Yet there will be no questioning its relevance when Euro 16 kicks off in France in two years’ time, nor were there any criticism leveled at the remarkable achievement of Greece in 2004 when they stunned everyone by lifting the trophy – beating France, the Czech Republic and Portugal in the knockout rounds.

Likewise, there were some wonderful performances in Glasgow that the athletes involved will cherish forever. Botswana’s Nijel Amos springs to mind. He won silver in the men’s 800 metres at the London Olympics two years ago behind rival David Rudisha of Kenya, but there was no doubting the look of sheer elation on his face when he turned the tables on Rudisha in Glasgow. That moment he will cherish forever.

And what about Australia’s Sally Pearson? The 100 metre hurdler already had a Commonwealth gold medal to her name, not to mention the Olympic gold – by far her crowning career achievement – she added in London. But having struggled with injury in the lead-up to Glasgow, then having athletics head coach Eric Hollingsworth controversially question her commitment – a statement that saw him sacked – Pearson ran the race of her life to win gold again and celebrated with even greater fervor than she did at the Olympics.

For the truly elite athletes in the world, the likes of Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt and Malaysia’s badminton champion Lee Chong Wei, it’s understandable that the Commonwealth Games doesn’t rank alongside the Olympic Games or even various World Championships on their list of accomplishments.

But there is nothing “Mickey Mouse” about any competition that can count the likes of Bolt – who just happened to win gold in the 4×100 men’s relay just a few days ago – Pearson and cycling champion Geraint Thomas among its list of competitors.

More importantly, athletes from all nations and in all sports spend years training and preparing to compete on the world stage. Whether the Commonwealth Games serves merely as a stepping stone to bigger and better things or provides a special career highlight, it seems counter-productive to deny either them or the fans who love watching them such an opportunity to shine.