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An open letter to the Commonwealth Games Federation


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Hi there CGF,

How are things?

Yes I know you are stressed about what may or may not be coming your way in India in a few months – but I thought we could hang five, grab a sponsored soda and have a chin wag about how we are going to move forward in this relationship.

I have a few concerns.

And an admission.

I haven’t been faithful – at all! I have been sleeping around with Asian Games, World Expos, World Cups, Olympics (Summer, Winter and Youth) and even a few world championships that quite frankly have more street credibility than you right now.

Shunting your wares from major Commonwealth city to major Commonwealth city must be tiring. Kuala Lumpur was a big one, then Manchester. Melbourne did a lot to help shine up the image – but these next Games in New Delhi – well, I am concerned.

I think we all expect those Games will go ahead and be relatively successful. Most of us expect pretty average venues and a lot of traffic issues. I also expect few if any world records will be broken and a general afterthought of “that was it?” to be my final impression of the 2010 event.

I also expect Glasgow will host a very well managed Games – and after that I guess the Gold Coast will do likewise. However I doubt I’ll be paying any attention. Neither will be the majority of Africa or Canada – if they even bother to send more than a handful of athletes by then.

And here is the problem. You have gone and let the Asian Games take over your third place in my affections. You have through malaise and tradition let yourself go – and what a tubby event you have become.

Where are the kids, CGF?

Where is the excitement?

Is it too late to save you? Is it too late to muster any enthusiasm from your far flung members?

I think not – but the changes needed may be drastic.

Things may look shaky right now – but if you keep plodding along even the World Games may overtake you in global (ir)relevance.

Now I do have some thoughts and suggestions. I’m not just throwing you under a bus.

First up – lets get the Commonwealth excited about the Commonwealth Games again. You have pretty much lost Canada. So let’s start there.

Issue One – How to get Canada back.

Throw in a winter sport. There is no Winter CG’s so throw Canada a bone and chuck in some curling (England will back me up on this one!) or a limited round robin of Ice Hockey. How about Ice Skating? Add something indoors using an existing facility or a temporary one. It will be a novelty and will generate some interest. It’s a small start – but a logical one.

Issue Two – Team Sports

I love Rugby 7’s. I do. Keep them. But you need to also bring in football/soccer. Eight teams, two groups then into the knock out rounds. Stage them around the host country. In Scotland matches could be staged in Edinburgh and Aberdeen with the final in Glasgow. For the Gold Coast give the rounds to Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra or even Melbourne. Or maybe Lismore, Toowoomba and Brisbane? You need something to keep the Africans coming back for more.

Keep Netball but get rid of Basketball. Unless you get commitments that top players are going to attend what is the point? Football/soccer has taken over as the dominant youth sport and there are probably just as many girls playing that now.

Limited overs or 20/20 cricket. It didn’t work in KL as the Malaysian aren’t into it. The Gold Coast is a perfect place to relaunch it into the CG’s. Again you could have satellite cities host the matches. Cricket IS the Commonwealth sport after all. You could go crazy and host a match in Dubai to spread the word if you needed to. It is a ticket selling crown pleaser! Get the ICC to work a 20/20 tournament at the Commonwealth Games into an event that is tied in with world rankings.

Issue Three – Ceremonies

Stage the Gold Coast ceremonies at Surfers Paradise. Figure it out. If Guangzhou can have theirs on an island in the river find a way. You need a stunning opener to set the mood. Integrate a handover from the past host city to make it a bit unique. I wish there was something to replace the Queen’s baton – it is cheesy and an unnecessary expense. However a few people love it. Maybe ban the whole global route thing though.

Issue Four – Scale

These events are never going to get smaller at this rate – and while I know adding team sports isn’t going to help you just need to be clever. Share events that have round robin tournaments. Make the host city the finals city. Demand at least 25% of all venues must be temporary. Only give the Games to places that can responsibly find a use for the athlete’s village. Or find a way to invest in your own Games. The IOC found a way to make lots of money and they were in much more dire straits than you are, CGF. Aim to be like the Asian Games – throw in some wacky local sports as demonstration sports – or bring in low impact sports like ten pin bowling and billiards. Poker? Begin to accept the kitsch! Get the right sponsors at the right price.

Issue Five – Realistic Expectations

The CG’s cannot go the way of the Winter Olympics. There are a finite amount of big cities that can one up the last host. After Glasgow you can have a gaudy Games on the Gold Coast – but after that – what? South Africa? Singapore? Auckland? Abuja? I want a Games in Victoria, Canada again. Or Halifax. Or Christchurch. Invite the UAE/Middle East and Hong Kong in. Issue invites based on history with nothing but sporting ties being expected in return.

I think we all can expand on my thoughts and come up with a way to reinvent the Commonwealth Games as the people’s Games. They are our Games – and we are in this together – please add your ideas.

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From: Commonwealth Games Federation Public Affairs Section

To: Mr Thatsnotmypuppy Esquire, Australia

Dear Mr Thatsnotmypuppy

Thank you for your correspondence which you obviously spent quick a lot of time in composing, and we here at the CGF always welcome a bit of epistolary contact from the colonies...ahem, ex-colonies. It does gladden the heart of those of us ensconced here in the Old Dart's finest sporting HQ (well if one excludes Lords where the gin and tonics are quite superb believe me old chap) to find out that there are still some parts of the Empire...oh, please excuse the reference...the Commonwealth where our noble festival of sport still attracts some interest. After all I am not the only one here in CGHQ that thought only the good lads and ladies in the British Virgin Islands, the Isle of Man and Jersey still had time for our little sporting soiree. So thank you young man and I'll be sure to raise your eagerness to put your views across when we next have our CGF Gymkhana and Fox Hunt get together, perhaps over some Pimms and Lemonade what-ho.

However I must point out that as much as we enjoy receiving letters from the outback or wherever in Australia you live cobber, I must remind you that the Empire...ahem, Commonwealth Games have a bright future, as long as Hong Kong remains under the Union Jack. After all, the Commonwealth Games are what our brave lads went over the top for at Rorkes Drift, Vimy Ridge, Dieppe and of course Kingston 1966. We can't just drop everything and make these games festival my dear fellow; next thing you'll know we'll be petitioned by those uncouth folk at the BBC or what have you to allow wireless reportage of our games, or even (heaven forbid) colour television. It just won't do, plus I don't think HRH will be much pleased.

I will say that whilst our subcontinental colleagues are having a rum time of it what with not being able to get good tarpaulins for the main stadium, and all that monsoonal rain must be dampening their ardour what. However I can state without fear nor favour that the Delhi 2010 Games have already been considered the best games since 2006, and by gad they will set the standard for many a week until 2011.

Also I do find some of your proposals interesting but do I have to remind you that those ex-North American colonies chose to be vulgar and hence unlike our imperial brethren in Canada, New Zealand, the Cape Colony and all those other parts that were once pink on the map we don't want to just do as our dashed Yankee acquaintances do, do we? I assure you good chap if we at CGF HQ start thinking and running the Empire...oops, Commonwealth Games like Johnny Foreigner well next next you know we'll be asking for people to actually care about whether they can be afforded. Plus I have it on good authority from a certain Prince (first initial C and had a lot of problems with the first wife don't you know) that if it wasn't for the games he'd have little else to do.

So, Mr Thatsnotmypuppy (and may I note at this time what a quaint colonial name you have there) whilst we appreciate your concern we will continue to show off the Empire's...I do apologies, Commonwealth's finest lady lawn bowlers, amateur boxers and almost drug free weightlifters for many a year to come. Be assured that as long as there is a desire to see the most attractive compilation of second rate athletes and venues on the world stage we here at CGF HQ will be doing our best to see we manage something more than indifference.

Well, perhaps once we've dealt with tiffin and elevenses.

Yours sincerely

Major Henry Fippington-Smythe-Smythe

DSO, DFC, VD and Bar

1st/15th Yorkshire Foot & Mouth (ret'd)

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Ok - so am guessing u all ain't keen on the commonwealth games then lol!

It's not that I am not too keen on the CGs, more that they seem for me to have reached the end of the line in terms of interest, significance in terms of international sport as well as a representation of an old political grouping which is less and less relevant as the years go by, and the utter wastefulness and shambolic organisation of Delhi 2010 has killed off any residue respect for the CGF. It really does seem like a hugely expensive project which has bugger all tangible benefits and at times has all the intensity of a souped-up school's athletics carnival. Take away sports like cycling, lawn bowls, netball and swimming where a very few Commonwealth countries have a significant presence in global sports and the CGs are hardly earth shattering in terms of performances or athletic stature.

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It's not that I am not too keen on the CGs, more that they seem for me to have reached the end of the line in terms of interest, significance in terms of international sport as well as a representation of an old political grouping which is less and less relevant as the years go by, and the utter wastefulness and shambolic organisation of Delhi 2010 has killed off any residue respect for the CGF. It really does seem like a hugely expensive project which has bugger all tangible benefits and at times has all the intensity of a souped-up school's athletics carnival. Take away sports like cycling, lawn bowls, netball and swimming where a very few Commonwealth countries have a significant presence in global sports and the CGs are hardly earth shattering in terms of performances or athletic stature.

I just don't think they were ever anything more than they are now - a modest afterthought of passing mild interest between Olympics. Their stature's always been no more that of one of the more higher profile of the second-tier round of events, which is basically everything bar the senior Olympics and FIFA WC. If there's been any change, it's that they never aspired to be anything more than that until perhaps recently, when with a succession of Kuala Lumpur, Manchester, Melbourne and Delhi they've started taking on a perceived scale that is unsustainable for its level and pool of potential hosts. Hopefully Glasgow and the Gold Coast can restore that balance a bit, and take it back to something more to the scale of a Victoria than a KL, Manchester or Melbourne. They've still got a lot of advantages they can play over the continental games, first and foremost probably the best geographic spread and diversity after the Olympics. But they probably do need to come back down to past levels a bit.

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I just don't think they were ever anything more than they are now - a modest afterthought of passing mild interest between Olympics. Their stature's always been no more that of one of the more higher profile of the second-tier round of events, which is basically everything bar the senior Olympics and FIFA WC. If there's been any change, it's that they never aspired to be anything more than that until perhaps recently, when with a succession of Kuala Lumpur, Manchester, Melbourne and Delhi they've started taking on a perceived scale that is unsustainable for its level and pool of potential hosts. Hopefully Glasgow and the Gold Coast can restore that balance a bit, and take it back to something more to the scale of a Victoria than a KL, Manchester or Melbourne. They've still got a lot of advantages they can play over the continental games, first and foremost probably the best geographic spread and diversity after the Olympics. But they probably do need to come back down to past levels a bit.

I tend to agree with you regarding the growing gigantism of the CGs SR however let's be realistic. The Commonwealth Games have had to grow through internal politics of the host nations (arguably set up by the KL games which were all about pushing Malaysia onto the world stage then reinforced by Manchester wanting to show those down south that 'oop north' could put on games as good as London could hope to, and Melbourne wanting to outdo what Sydney did), plus in an increasingly cluttered international sports calendar the only way to keep the TV income and sponsors and government support on tap was to turn the CGs into a real 2nd tier Olympics. Problem is the basic model of the CG is limited (71 teams with tenuous links at best across the board), only half a dozen or so countries that have the infrastructure, economic and political capability to host the games and an even less capable group of administrators compared to the IOC. Glasgow nor probably the Gold Coast will look to downsize the CGs, they will still be bloated and increasingly seen as a way lesser event. Let's not forget by the time Glasgow gets its turn at the 2014 games London will have come and gone plus in the same year there will be the Sochi OWGs and Brazil's FIFA WC (plus Nanjing 2014 YOG)...can anyone honestly say that our canny friends on the Clyde will want to pare back their games in the hope of making their CGs more sustainable, at the risk of being lost in the sporting tidal wave?

The old CGs or Empire Games or whatever had a genuine identity that was defined by the intriguing context of old British colonies etc meeting every four years in an at times very amateur and at other times world standard games. Now they are just another multinational multi-event carnival with pretensions of grandeur they can ill afford or substantiate.

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Good point about the competition. Till '94 they only had the FIFA WC to compete for attention much. Now with the WOGs and YOGs and what-not all staking out their territories in the tween-Summer Games years as well, yeah, it is getting a bit crowded. Maybe we should give the Indians another year to get their act together and switch the whole cycle to the '11-'15-'19 ... sequence from now on.

I still think there can be relevance. If we can go back to the "Friendly Games" rather than the Olympic wannabes or consolation prizes. They've always been hoakey - that's their charm. Where else are you gonna get prime time enthusiasm for lawn bowls? And there's a still a lot of sports that can unite us within the Commonweralth that can't really be satisfied at the Olympic level - netball, cricket, Rugby (well, we can share that with the IOC and world, it'll still be a Commonwealth dominated comp at Rio) - hell yeah, let's look at curling and lacrosse. Lets get some ice in there to build us Aussies, Brits and Kiwis a bit for the Winter Olympics. Just go back to revelling in what unites us and brings us together, rather than being seen as an try-to-be-olympics sugarless substitute.

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Good point about the competition. Till '94 they only had the FIFA WC to compete for attention much. Now with the WOGs and YOGs and what-not all staking out their territories in the tween-Summer Games years as well, yeah, it is getting a bit crowded. Maybe we should give the Indians another year to get their act together and switch the whole cycle to the '11-'15-'19 ... sequence from now on.

I still think there can be relevance. If we can go back to the "Friendly Games" rather than the Olympic wannabes or consolation prizes. They've always been hoakey - that's their charm. Where else are you gonna get prime time enthusiasm for lawn bowls? And there's a still a lot of sports that can unite us within the Commonweralth that can't really be satisfied at the Olympic level - netball, cricket, Rugby (well, we can share that with the IOC and world, it'll still be a Commonwealth dominated comp at Rio) - hell yeah, let's look at curling and lacrosse. Lets get some ice in there to build us Aussies, Brits and Kiwis a bit for the Winter Olympics. Just go back to revelling in what unites us and brings us together, rather than being seen as an try-to-be-olympics sugarless substitute.

Yes, it would be interesting to bring back the 'hello chaps' amateur hokeyness of the old friendly games. Sad to say almost none of the constituent sports at the CGs can have than olde worlde charm restored. Even the sports dominated by Commonwealth nations (netball, cricket, rugby) have their own world championships/cups etc that have it all over the CGs nowadays. When it comes to the sporting spectacle the CGs wanna be they just can't hack it and they've lost the innocence of a big winking Matilda, or fun of Edinburgh 70 or Christchurch 74.

Methinks the tipping point was 1986...up till then ye olde CWGs were celebrated every 4 years with no great dramas. Then with Edinburgh 86 you had the boycott followed not long thereafter the rise of Australia as the dominant sporting nation at the games. Competition for the smaller countries became less interesting and the ruthless growth of the big teams and the host cities plans led to a real change in what the CGs were about. We simply can't go back no matter what, and the way forward looks at least right now pretty bloody gloomy...

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Yes, it would be interesting to bring back the 'hello chaps' amateur hokeyness of the old friendly games. Sad to say almost none of the constituent sports at the CGs can have than olde worlde charm restored. Even the sports dominated by Commonwealth nations (netball, cricket, rugby) have their own world championships/cups etc that have it all over the CGs nowadays. When it comes to the sporting spectacle the CGs wanna be they just can't hack it and they've lost the innocence of a big winking Matilda, or fun of Edinburgh 70 or Christchurch 74.

Methinks the tipping point was 1986...up till then ye olde CWGs were celebrated every 4 years with no great dramas. Then with Edinburgh 86 you had the boycott followed not long thereafter the rise of Australia as the dominant sporting nation at the games. Competition for the smaller countries became less interesting and the ruthless growth of the big teams and the host cities plans led to a real change in what the CGs were about. We simply can't go back no matter what, and the way forward looks at least right now pretty bloody gloomy...

Edinburgh '86 may have been a nadir, more rooted in Maggie Thatcher's personal prejudices than much else, just as the IOC had its succession of nadirs in the decade and so earlier. But the CWGs also survived like the Olympics to go on and bring in some of its more memorable and celebrations ever - Auckland '90 which I reckon got the tone, balance, spirit and expectation just right, and the remarkably and delightfully twee Victoria (which itself would bring what I would rate as one of the CWGs greatest arena moments - Cathy Freeman's win, her lap with the Aboriginal flag, and her duels with Arthur Tunstall. More than Cathy's win at Sydney, I think that was the moment Australians were forced to look within themselves, and come out saying: "Hang on! Give her (and the Aborigines) a fair go!"

And speaking of Arthur, Jeez I miss him. Love him or despise him, he's been part of the quirky colour of the Commies. All the carnivals need their stage heroes and villains.

Even the succession of celebrations since - the big three leading up to now - have been successful in their terms. Its now we've hit Delhi we're starting to question the scale and sustainability those models represented.

As to the relevance of the CWGs - well, that's as ancient a debate as the games themselves. The true sports afficionados have always sniffed at them. Just personally, I remember back in 1982 reading, and subbing, op-ed pieces and articles looking critically at the games' relevance, the role of the Commonwealth, the status of them as a sports contest, the seemingly mind-numbing irrelevance of Isle of Man versus Belize at Lawn Bowls. And a few weeks later a kangaroo winks at us and we're all Waltzing Matilda with enthusiasm at what a fun event it is after those oh-so-serious Olympics. And while we're at it, maybe Brissie might have a shot at the 92 Olympics? Can't hurt?

And they always get tied into the whole debate on the role of the Commonwealth itself - hence their many name changes. Just as we and the Kiwis and the Canucks and all the rest still navel gaze about our relationship with the historical Mother Country, and still get angst about whether we can ever really bring ourselves to be disloyal to Her Maj and become a republic or not.

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I like many of the ideas presented here. An ice sport would be an interesting addition. Hockey is probably too Canadian, but curling has a Commonwealth feel to it. What about figure skating?

The Queen's Baton is boring. A message from HRM stuck in a stick that looks like an Olympic torch with out the fire? OK, I get that you don't want to copy the Olympics, but how about make it a Queen's Beacon with a glowing light that shoots out a laser or a brighter beam or even a hologram of the Queen at the start of the Games. It would at least be something to look at and create more of a purposeful, commencement feel. I don't think people are sitting on the edge of their seats to hear Liz read aloud a message that she wrote a few months earlier.

And if Puppy's ideas sink, add a cook off, a swimsuit contest or best buns competition.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think curling would be the best option. England is great at it, Canada is great at it and Australia/NZ are at least competitive. Ice skating would also be a good one. I guess the venue costs could be prohibitive - an ice sheet is not cheap - but at least for curling most cities have a standard ice rink that could be adapted.

I just feel that the whole 2010 shitstorm has hurt the CGF deeply. Glasgow needs to be an LA84 to get the Games back on track.

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