These days the Commonwealth Games are a celebration about the positive side of the British Empire’s legacy; unity, shared history and lasting cooperation
This July and August almost 7000 athletes from 71 nations will meet in Glasgow, Scotland for the quadrennial Commonwealth Games, a meeting of the former members of the British Empire, and later, the British Commonwealth.
Far from being a celebration of the Britain’s former glory as the world’s greatest imperial power, the games bring out mixed emotions from people in the former colonies, even in Britain itself. Many view it in positive terms, as a way for their country’s best athletes to make a name for themselves on an international stage.To some, it’s a way for online sportsbooks in the UK to make money.
To others, it is a painful reminder of a period in history they’d rather forget. It’s important to remember that until 1966 the event was called the “British Empire” games, and was an open celebration of Britain’s greatness and superiority.
As the Empire Games evolved into the Commonwealth Games their meaning became less obvious. Almost fifty years later are the games still significant, and is the Commonwealth itself?
The British Empire Games
The first British Empire games were held in Hamilton, Canada in 1930. By then Britain had passed its prime as a great power and the empire had begun the gradual process of dissolving, but most politicians and citizens had woken up to that fact yet. The games were a proud celebration of what was still the world’s largest empire.
• From 1930 to 1966 the event was called the “British Empire Games”
• The Commonwealth is a voluntary organization created in 1949
• These days the games are a celebration of unity and common history
400 athletes from 11 countries (England, Canada, South Africa, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Wales, Newfoundland, Bermuda and British Guiana) met in the Ontario town to compete in six different sports. Representing only a small portion of the empire the games were not a huge sensation, but a lasting tradition was born.
After the Second World War the empire was slowly dismantled, and in 1949 the Commonwealth was created out of several former colonies treated as “equal” members of the organization. Membership was voluntary, with several former colonies such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India opting to join. Of course, some countries like Kenya, Iraq and Malaysia were still formally part of the Empire.
The games remained a relatively small competition until 1954 when 24 countries competed in Vancouver, Canada. In that year the event’s name also reflected the postwar reality for the first time, with the word “Commonwealth” being added alongside “Empire.”
In 1970 the world “Empire” was dropped for good and it became the British Commonwealth Games. Then in 1978 it became the Commonwealth Games, reflecting the unity and friendship of the former colonies rather than celebrating Britain’s central role. As the term “empire” was no longer something to be proud of, Britons began to embrace the new reality.
Does the Commonwealth matter?
Some view the loose affiliation of 53 former members of the British Empire (18 other nations currently compete in the Commonwealth games) as obsolete, or worse, something leftover to remind Britons of how powerful they once were.
What does the Commonwealth really do? According to the official website of the 2014 games:
These nations and territories work together to promote peace, democracy, sustainable development, human rights and health, and to share ideas, knowledge and experience. And of course every four years they all come together to take part in the Commonwealth Games.
And that pretty much sums it up. The Commonwealth provides a forum for the former colonies to share views and solutions on a variety of topics, although the organization is limited and less important than larger groups like the UN, NATO and World Trade Organization.
And that’s what the Commonwealth Games are: a large but limited sporting event which pales in comparison to the Summer Olympics. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t significant to millions of people, and it’s an exciting sporting event in its own right rather than just a dry history lesson. People really do care; hundreds of millions worldwide tune in and participate in Commonwealth Games betting.
The 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
Whether or not you see any reason for the Commonwealth Games to exist, take the sporting event for what it is. Enjoy the opportunity to see athletes from little-known countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Lesotho compete in little-known events in the Commonwealth Games like lawn bowls and netball.
It also serves as a reminder that even though the British Empire no longer exists, the colonial legacy lives on in a more positive form. Because rather than celebrating Britain’s dominance over half of the globe, the games now celebrate the common history and unity than 71 nations share. This sentiment was echoed by one young Scotswoman:
In this globalized-yet-unequal world, where my own country is on the brink of dividing itself, the Commonwealth is a good thing, where we can embrace our similarities, welcome our international responsibilities, and hold on to the ties that bind us.