What do the commonwealths mean?

With the start of the Melbourne games imminent, it seems once again that Australia will be the dominant forces, not only in the pool but in the games at large, buoyed as they will be by a partisan home crowd. In recent weeks a target of 100 gold medals, a games record, has been mooted by many in the press leading to suggestions form many commentators that he games will lack credibility and relevance to Australian and indeed world sport.

With the games almost on that cynicism has started to dissipate, but the suggestion must remain – do the games mean anything any more or are they an anachronism in the modern world? We posed that question to the BBC’s swimming correspondent Bob Ballard, who has been to the past two games.

“To most Europeans it matters not one jot, to the US it is a colonial anachronism, but to the Brits, the Aussies and a large part of the English-speaking world, it will always be regarded as the “Friendly Games”. The Yanks may wish to paint it as cute or maybe even “quaint”, but there is a good reason why the Commonwealth Games is still held in high regard here. It gives, for want of a better term, the second tier of swimming, and other events, the opportunity to experience an Olympic feel without any of the razzmatazz, the huge corporate sponsorship and the oppressive security that is now part and parcel of the world’s biggest sporting event.

“From a broadcasters’ point of view, that’s another big plus for the Commonwealth Games. You get a chance to talk, sometimes at length, to the competitors. There isn’t the clamour for sound bites, snatched interviews, that there so often is at an Olympics or World Championships. The whole atmosphere of the event, whilst being competitive and often highly so, is more open and inclusive.

“The Games are secure for the immediate future – India have them next, the Scots want them and there will be surely be another visit to Canada before long, but even the “Friendly Games” have become difficult to stage, financially it’s a big burden, the television networks are not falling over themselves to cover it, the BBC were the only people who really wanted to show Melbourne after initial interest from Channel 4.

“I really hope the Commonwealths outlive me, but I feel, sadly, there will come a time when the plug will be pulled, or the Games, as we know them now, will be scaled down. Swimming is such an integral part of them that it surely will survive, but if one of the big pieces of the jigsaw, Australia say, feel that they have bigger fish to fry, and that no longer need this four yearly festival of all that’s honest and decent in sport, we will all be poorer for its passing.

“So when you’re grumbling about having to get up for an early breakfast to witness and listen to the action from Melbourne, enjoy it while you can – it may go the way of the hula hoop, transistor radio and Sinclair C5!”