Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why Are The Commonwealth Games, and Other “Games” Being Held?

NEW DELHI, INDIA - SEPTEMBER 22: An Indian labourers work outside of the main stadium for the approaching 19th Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on September 22, 2010 in New Delhi, India. Pieces of a false roof inside of the weightlifting complex collapsed today following yesterday's collapse of a footbridge under construction that injured 27 workers at the main stadium for the upcoming Commonwealth Games. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

All year long there have been questions raised about the staging of the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Everything from questions regarding whether or not the facilities would be ready in time, to complaints this week from England, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, Australia and Canada over the condition of the team accommodations – said to be unsafe and uninhabitable. A majority of the top level athletes have pulled out for various reasons, with Jamaica sending but a shell of what would normally be considered a national team.

All of which makes me question why these Games are being held. At what point do the sport’s ruling bodies step in and say that a competition is in essence being cancelled? But even more to the point, is this and other “secondary” Games necessary? Which to me is really at the heart of the matter.

Most of these competitions have origins that go back to a time when the sport’s major highlight – the Olympic Games – occurred only once every four years. At that time it made sense to have a Commonwealth Games, or a Pan Am Games, or a European Championships. Having other “championship” meets to aim for during the three years between the Olympics helped give purpose to the training and competition of the athletes. It gave them something else to shoot for – something else to attain. But with each passing Commonwealth Games or Pan Am Games, among others, we see fewer and fewer top level athletes participating.

In track and field, for example,with the advent of multiple World Championships to go with the Olympics, competing in “minor” championships has seemingly become a burden for the truly elite athletes who would prefer to rest tired bodies, and mend injuries in preparation of making an attempt at winning a “real” championship medal! And I can’t say that I blame them. After all, would you rather be in possession of a gold medal from the Commonwealth Games or in possession of one from the Olympics or World Championships? I’m sure I already know the answer to that question. Because in the world of trying to market one’s name or brand, it is the attainment of medals in the Majors that earns the pay day.

Similarly in other sports, these sorts of Games have become less and less a stage in which the best in sport take part, as most of the amateur based sports – track and field, swimming and diving, gymnastics, etc – have their own World Championships to go along with the Olympic Games. More than enough to serve as the focus for their elite athletes. If the top athletes are not attending, then what kind of “championships” are being funded? Why are we putting nations through the cost and expense to put together championship facilities for competitions that aren’t even “secondary” in the grand scheme of things? Because in track and field, next in importance to the Majors are the Grand Prix, Super Grand Prix and Diamond League level meets. So at best these secondary majors rank third on a scale of perhaps four levels for our athletes. A lot of money being spent on competitions that mean very little when all is said and done.

Would India, and the sport, have been better served by making a bid for the Olympics and planning and utilizing it’s resources to serve as host to the world. Creating a facility that in effect would also be able to host a World Championships in Track and Field. Because, no offense to Europe, but it’s time we did a better job of branching out to other areas of the world. Same for the Pan Am Games. I would much rather see cities like Havana, Caracas, or Santo Domingo hosting a Worlds than a Pan Am Games. It would truly broaden the reach of the sport globally and could begin the process for Olympic bids – because the Olympics could stand to broaden it’s global reach as well.

It just seems to me that we are wasting valuable resources on events that no longer merit the time and money that is being afforded them. That in a world where the global economy has changed dramatically over the years that sport can no longer afford to fund secondary championship meets that require the development of the equivalent of a small town in order to be held.

I can’t speak for other sports, but I think it’s time for track and field to take a look at the fact that the whole “championships” scene was forever changed with a move towards professionalism (because I still don’t think we’ve truly arrived) and the addition of World Championships to the schedule. If anything we need to drop all of the regional and continental meets – Asian Games, Pan Ams, Commonwealth, European Championships, Continental Cup and others – and institute an additional World Championships in what is now the off year. Major sports have championships every year and track and field needs to move in that direction.

Whatever activities we are spending our resources on should be highly visible and part of an overall marketing scheme that is designed to put us in the public eye in a big way. Sports fans today pay little to no attention to anything that does not have the words “World” or “Olympics” associated with them. Spending money on anything less is a waste of resources. Because if we are to be a truly professional sport, then our “championships” must be of the highest quality and bring together our BEST athletes. If it doesn’t attract our best performers then we need to rethink if it needs to be held at all.


  1. While I do not disagree with the essence of your article, there are some points to note.
    These games provide competition for some of the 'lesser' athletes not only in Track and Field but in other sports as well. Without these games and the oftentimes absence of the 'world rated' performers, many 'up and coming' performers would not have a stage to showcase their skills. While it may be an 'expensive' stage, it's absence would be 'costly' as well.

  2. I agree that there is a need for the "second tier" athletes to get experience, but as you say this is a rather expensive way to do so .. I can't speak for other sports, but we have a ton of meets both domestically and internationally where these athletes get to compete .. And there is nationals on an annual basis where they get their opportunities to break through ... Do we really need that one extra competition per year ??