Delhi 2010: A Sporting Niche

The 2010 Commonwealth Games are underway and competitorsfrom the former colonies of the British Empire (as well as Mozambique andRwanda) have arrived in Delhi for the quadrennial celebration of sport.
The Delhi games have been plagued by a number of problems ranging from security issues to unhygienic living quarters, while a number of the Commonwealth’s most prominent athletes including Olympic and World Champion Usain Bolt have stayed away.
These issues have led many to question the credibility of the competition and its relevance in today’s sporting world. While it is true that the Commonwealth Games are not on a par with the Olympics in terms of scale and competitiveness, it retains importance as it provides an arena in which smaller countries can have influence, something that the Olympics cannot afford them.

It is important to see the Commonwealth Games in a historical context. First held in Hamilton, Canada in 1930, the British Empire Games, as they were then known, were a celebration of the common bond that cemented the Empire. Following the Second World War and decolonisation, the Commonwealth was established as “A voluntary association of those states which have experienced some form of British rule who wish to work together to further their individual and common interests”.
For the British this represented a way of retaining a degree of informal control having relinquished their political rule over the colonies, while for the newly formed states it allowed them access to the world stage in a way that existing inter-governmental organisations such as the UN and IOC did not. The games were used as a diplomatic tool and played a vital role in the exile of South Africa from the global sporting arena in the second half of the twentieth century.
The Commonwealth Games presented a method of isolating South Africa without jeopardising individual countries’ participation in other diplomatic arenas. Sport was a way of demonstrating against apartheid, especially through the use of boycotts which were both highly visible and inexpensive. Many African countries boycotted the 1976 Olympic Games after the New Zealand rugby team toured South Africa, but this boycott was overshadowed by the Two Chinas debate.
The 1978 Commonwealth Games were due to be held in Edmonton and the threat of a boycott loomed. The Commonwealth Games were largely void of the Cold War tensions that the Olympics experienced and an ypotential boycott would have a far greater impact.
The result was the Gleneagles agreement which allowed the Commonwealth Games Federation to exclude members while bringing to an end any previous conflicts. This demonstrated thebenefits of the games to its members as they were able to exert more influencethan they would do in the IOC.  After the New Zealand issue was resolved, Britain became the next target of the anti-apartheid movement, resulting from the British government’s failure to enforce stronger sanctions on South Africa. The consequence was an African-ledboycott of the 1986 games in Edinburgh.
The issue of South Africa during the apartheid era gave the Commonwealth Games a political purpose but after the end of minority rule, questions were raised over the future of the event. There were moves to make the event more economically viable and the benefits were stressed to any potential hosts. The awarding of the games to Kuala Lumpur in 1998 and to Delhi in 2010 have given developing countries a chance to demonstrate their ability to host major sporting events, something that the Olympics has yet to do.
While the 2010 Commonwealth Games have had many problems, they still matter. The Commonwealth allows smaller countries to have more influence, while permits countries such as Canada to differentiate itself from the United States.
What started as a British attempt to employ a more informal method of control over its former colonies, turned into a forum which could eventually be used to direct criticism at Britain itself. The creation of the secretariat decreased the Anglo-centricity of the Commonwealth, while the changing of the name from the British Empire Games to the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in 1954 and to the present title in 1978 demonstrates the shifting influence of the games.
Delhi 2010 may not be attracting the crowds, or even the athletes,but the games have formed a niche in the sporting world. In 2014 the games willbe held in Glasgow and it is not optimistic to predict that they will be a success.



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