Is the Commonwealth Games Still Relevant In the 21st Century?
by Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA
In 1891, John Astley Cooper wrote an article in the Times calling for the creation of a pan Britannia sporting events that would showcase the sporting talents of the countries that were part of the British Empire. Thirty-nine years later, his vision was realised when the first British Empire games took place in Hamilton, Canada between 16 August 1930 and 23 August 1930. Eighty four years later during the 20th Commonwealth Games which recently took place in Glasgow, The Times reported that Usain Bolt, the six times Olympic Gold medalist described the Games as “a bit shit.” According to The Times correspondent, Katie Gibbons, Bolt informed her that he was not having fun and he believed that the Olympics were better than the Commonwealth Games. Bolt's alleged comments made headline news in the print and television media. Despite Bolt’s denial a number of journalists goaded him asking why he made such comments. Gabby Logan, the BBC sports journalist even remarked that the Glasgow Games would be better off without Bolt.
With the Games now concluded, it is worth getting answers to a number of questions. Should so much attention have been given to Bolt for his alleged comments? Is it wrong to suggest that the Olympics is better than the Commonwealth Games? Is the Commonwealth Games still relevant in the 21st century? Should it be removed from the sporting calendar on moral grounds?
As the Games took place, there was so much hype in the air. BBC devoted around 12 hours each day covering the event. Day after day, we watched one British athlete after the other triumphing “against the odds.” The Home nations dominated the medal tables with England leading the charge with 61 gold medals while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland came 4th, 13th and 15th respectively. Television cameras were installed in the living rooms of the families of the British athletes to record the euphoric moments when the athletes prevailed. We watched the athletes’ family members hugging, screaming and crying. In contrast, little attention was given to athletes from the other countries especially the poorer nations that form part of the Commonwealth.
While the Commonwealth Games is not “a bit shit”, it is however not in the same league as the Olympics. In contrast to the Olympics, which is contested by athletes around the world, the Commonwealth Games is contested by athletes from the former colonies of Britain (with the exception Mozambique and Rwanda). Due to this limitation, the best athletes from the other parts of the world do not participate in the Commonwealth Games. This therefore impacts on the quality of the games as can be seen by the Games record ,which are way behind the Olympics and other world leading sporting records. Countries that are not dominant in major international sporting events sometimes end up winning multiple medals at the Games. It is for these and other reasons that the Commonwealth Games can be likened to an inter-collegiate sporting event.
The poor quality of the competition should not preclude the Games from taking place. After all there are other sporting events, which are not of the same quality as the Olympics or even the Commonwealth Games. Also the Games provide an opportunity for young and unknown athletes to make a name for themselves. However when one considers the origin and raison d'être for the Games, there are grounds to question whether this competition is still relevant in the 21st century.
As explained earlier, the Games is an offshoot of the British Empire . Prior to being called the Commonwealth Games, it was known first as the British Empire Games, then the British Empire and Commonwealth Games and later the British Commonwealth Games. In other words, the Games revolve around one Empire i.e. the British Empire.
The British Empire was one of the most brutal and sadistic empires that the world has ever seen. Sitting at the top of the empire was the so-called Mother Country i.e. Britain, while the colonies which spanned the four corners of the earth covering Australia to Zimbabwe carried the "Mother Country" on its bent and broken backs. At its peak, the British Empire covered almost a quarter of the earth's total land area and accounted for a third of the world’s population. Its reach was so wide that former Kings and Queens of Britain could boast, “The sun never sets on our great Empire.” However, despite the scale of the length, breadth and height of the British Empire, it was morally flawed. The Empire was founded on oppression, decked on repression and roofed on suppression. The colonised citizens were treated as third class citizens at best and as sub-human at worst. Lord Lugard, former Governor General of Nigeria graphically expressed this mindset when he asserted “In character and temperament, the typical African of this race-type is a happy, thriftless, excitable person. …….. His thoughts are concentrated on the events and feelings of the moment, and he suffers little from the apprehension for the future or grief for the past. His mind is far nearer to the animal world than that of the European.” The Empire was conceptualised on a zero sum principle in which the development of the so-called Mother Country was achieved through the sweat, tears and blood of the citizens of the colonies.
The British Empire was involved in some of the world’s most heinous crimes against humanity. The Empire was a key player in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Tens of millions of people were forcefully taken from Africa to the Americas under very inhumane conditions to work as slaves. The conditions were so bad that a third of the captured Africans never made it to the Americas. These Africans were not regarded as human beings and were described as “'two-legged beasts' or 'savages' that were not quite beasts but were certainly not human either”; the Empire was involved in the internment of over a million Kenyans in concentration camps during the Mau Mau rebellion. Many Kenyans had their ears sliced off, men were castrated and the women were raped by the colonialists; the Empire played a key role in contributing to the death of 3 million Indians during the Bengal famine. In addition, the colonialists from the "Mother Country" played a significant role in the Tasmanian genocide.
Another legacy of the British Empire was the spread of racism. The conquest of the darker regions of the world such as Asia and Africa created a false sense of white superiority and false sense of black, brown and yellow inferiority. Unfortunately these mindsets are still prevalent today. In modern day Britain, the non-white citizens of the former colonies residing in the "Mother Country” are scapegoated as criminals, benefit cheats and scroungers by some sections of the British media, British politicians and the British public.
Despite these atrocities, the “Mother Country” is yet to apologise or recompense for her misdeeds; rather she has a sense of entitlement for the descendants of the tortured souls of the British Empire to gather every four years to run, jump, swim and celebrate a sporting event built on the foundation of injustice. The fact that descendants of the tortured souls of the British Empire are all too willing to participate in Commonwealth activities is a testament to the hold that the so-called Mother Country still has over its former subjects.
In conclusion, the joy of the Commonwealth Games cannot be divorced from the tears resulting from the British Empire. There is no justification for the Games to continue to be held when the atrocities of the past deeds of the Empire have not been addressed. Rather than scapegoating Usain Bolt, it is time for the so-called Mother Country along with its former colonies to wake up from its historical amnesia and work towards smashing the remaining vestige of imperialism guised in the form of the Commonwealth Games and the Commonwealth of Nations. If the Commonwealth Games is allowed to continue, it will soon lose its allure and be dismissed as a neo-colonial third rate sporting event, which massages the ego of the “Mother Country” with no meaning for the twenty first century.
Ahmed Sule, CFA
Personal & Conflict of Interest Disclosure Statement: The author of this article is a citizen of a former British colony.
Editor- The Times
Katie Gibbons – The Times
Commonwealth Games Federation
The Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation
Commonwealth Secretary General