5 Apr 2018

Should we care about the Commonwealth Games?

9:39 am on 5 April 2018

Will you be watching?


The aquatic centre at the Gold Coast games.

The aquatic centre at the Gold Coast games. Photo: AFP

The 21st edition of the Commonwealth Games is underway on Australia’s Gold Coast, but should we care?

New Zealand is fifth in the all-time medal tally and has a strong record at the games. People look back fondly on the glory days of Peter Snell, John Walker, and Valerie Young, marvel at the more recent success of Valerie Adams, and back new heroes Tom Walsh and Eliza McCartney.

Our affinity has also been built on having hosted the games three times: Auckland in 1950, Christchurch in 1974, and Auckland again in 1990. Dick Tayler won gold in the 10,000m race in Christchurch and Nikki Jenkins became our first gymnastic gold medallist in Auckland.

Putting this history aside, you could be forgiven for not realising the games are taking place, let alone whether they remain relevant to the average punter, despite the inevitable breaking news alerts that will clog our phones over the next few weeks.

It certainly shouldn’t be the end of the world if the likes of Walsh and Adams, and our hockey, netball and rugby sevens teams, don’t perform.

The thing is, something feels amiss with the Commonwealth Games these days. And that's not just the problems associated with the last two games - horrible accommodation in Delhi in 2010, and poor crowds and an outbreak of norovirus in Glasgow in 2014.

The games village in Delhi, which was criticised for its standards.

The games village in Delhi, which was criticised for its standards. Photo: Photosport

Our sporting calendar is completely saturated, and the Commonwealth Games feels like a side-thought as cricket, Super Rugby and the NRL vie for our limited attention spans.

The 11-day games aren’t close to being in the same realm as the Olympics, and just how many people tune in remains to be seen, despite the games being broadcast again on free-to-air TV. In the golden years - a pre-internet age - there was less sport on television and more attention could be given to the games.

New Zealand’s position in the world has changed, and with it the idea of our connection with the Commonwealth.

We may have once looked upon Britain as our mother country and spiritual home, but it should no longer define our identity.

The idea of the Commonwealth is more symbolic than anything economically and politically significant. The games shouldn’t just be seen as an historical event linked to a time when the Queen had any real power.

But the games will go on. For now.

Valerie Adams celebrates in Delhi.

Valerie Adams celebrates in Delhi. Photo: Photosport

Birmingham will host them in 2022, and there’s talk New Zealand might bid again.

Perhaps that will put the games back on a high pedestal again, if only temporarily.

Yet the cost is monumental and the 2018 edition has been billed at an estimated $2 billion AUS. How much of that would New Zealand get back if we hosted the games again?

Whatever happens, the Commonwealth Games are taking part in a very different world that existed when they started in 1930.