Tuesday, July 22, 2014

2014 Commonwealth Games primer

The biggest sporting event in Scotland's history -- the XX Commonwealth Games -- starts tomorrow in Glasgow. Organizers expect to sell roughly 1 million tickets to 261 sessions of competition. This massive sporting event, held over 11 days of competition, is second only to the 2012 London Olympics in size and scope of sporting event ever held in the United Kingdom.

The 2014 Commonwealth Games logo.
So, what are the Commonwealth Games?

To answer that, you have to understand the Commonwealth of Nations. Originally known as the "British Commonwealth," and then simply "the Commonwealth," it is now a collection of 53 member states across the world which mostly -- but not all -- are former colonies of the United Kingdom. The member nations share cultural and historical ties with the U.K., and generally share English as a common language. In theory, the member states all support and promote geopolitical goals such as democracy and the rule of law.

The flag of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Besides the U.K. itself, some of the other "major" countries in the Commonwealth of Nations include Australia, Canada, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, and South Africa. But there are many small countries, as well, such as Barbados, Fiji, Kiribati, Lesotho, and Papua New Guinea. Moreover, there are British territories and other participating nations, such as the British Virgin Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, and Samoa, as well as the member nations of the U.K.: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

This map courtesy of http://www.mapsofworld.com/commonwealth-games/countries.html.
In total, 71 nations and territories will participate in the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Almost one third of the world's population resides in a Commonwealth nation, spanning all continents and approximately one fourth of the world's landmass. Half of the Commonwealth's population of 2.3 billion is under the age of 25, and a quarter of its population is under 5 years of age.

Queen Elizabeth II sits as the Head of the Commonwealth, though each member state is freely associated and can elect to leave. The nations are all equal members. Queen Elizabeth, however, is the constitutional monarch of 16 member nations, including Australia, Belize, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, five other Commonwealth nations have their own monarchs: Brunei, Lesotho, Malaysia, Swaziland, and Tonga.

The Commonwealth Games were first held in 1930 with 400 athletes, though a precursor "Inter-Empire Championship" was held in 1911. The games run every four years, except for 1942 and 1946, due to World War II. Only Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand, Scotland, and Wales have participated in every Commonwealth Games. Although England was the top medal winner in six games, and Canada the top medal winner in one, Australia has dominated as the top medal winner in 12 games, including the last six in a row and nine of the last eleven. The 2010 games had 6,700 participants, and 2014 expects a higher number.

All Commonwealth Games include 10 "core" sports, with another seven selected by the host country. The "core" sports are: athletics (i.e., track and field), badminton, boxing, field hockey (called simply "hockey"), lawn bowling, netball, rugby sevens, squash, swimming, and weightlifting. As you can see, this list certainly gives the games its own distinct British character. Cycling, diving, gymnastics, shooting, and wrestling have been included in nearly all of the games. For 2014, Scotland has dropped archery and tennis, while adding triathlon and judo.

Why not soccer (i.e., football)? Well, team sports were added for the first time in 1998, so there's not a long tradition of including football. Much more importantly, the World Cup is held just a month before each Commonwealth Games, and the inclusion of national football teams for the latter event is not feasible.

How do the Commonwealth Games differ from the Olympic Games? Not by much, other than the number of countries participating and the scale of the event. They both feature opening and closing ceremonies -- Rod Stewart and Susan Boyle will be featured in this year's opening ceremonies -- as well as a mascot. However, for the Commonwealth Games, disabled participants are full members of their national teams and their medals are included in the medal count.

A mascot competition for ages 6-15 received 4,000 submissions. This is the winner, by a 12-year old girl from Cumbernauld.
The 2014 mascot, "Clyde," named for Glasgow's primary river. Clyde is a thistle, the national flower of Scotland.
Just like the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games includes a baton relay. Called the Queen's Baton Relay, it has covered more than 118,000 miles around the world. As you might expect, the baton relay has been all over Scotland recently. This past Saturday morning, we took a short drive up the road to Bearsden, just north of Glasgow, to watch the baton go by and to let Jackson play at a small fair celebrating the games:

The baton was scheduled to go by at 8:15 am.
We got there a bit early for coffee and a croissant.
The baton strolled by.
Cuisine from various Commonwealth countries was available.
Flags from the various nations were on display.
Jackson made a "hat." Rather, dictated to Kate what to make.
The wee ones had mini games to play, with assistance.
Then the baton went by again. First, the security detail, this member with Clyde . . .
. . . and then the baton.
When I say the baton has been everywhere, I mean it. Highlands, islands, lochs, rivers, canals, villages, cities. We found out on Monday the baton passed by just one street over from our house. Oops. We missed it.

The Commonwealth Games are not quite in the same league as the Olympics, of course, nor of the World Cup. But the Commonwealth Games are the next biggest sporting event in the world. Scotland is intent on showing it has the stature to host such major events. At the same time, I'm sure the pro-independence movement is hoping for a patriotic bump in the polls ahead of September's independence referendum.

We're excited to be attending three events over the next eleven days: rugby sevens; the marathon (in which one of Kate's friends/coworkers is running for Scotland); and track and field. I'll update you on our experience. And huzzah for Team Scotland!

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