Liam Morgan ©ITG

The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) may have portrayed Gold Coast 2018 as an event of firsts but it is an old topic which has been prominent in the build-up to and during the opening days of competition here.

The subject of relevance has long dogged the Commonwealth Games. Critics claim it is a multi-sport event more obsolete than a typewriter; cheerleaders claim it is second only to the Olympics in terms of profile and reach.

Even now, there does not appear to be a definitive answer to a conundrum which has been around for longer than people older and wiser than me can remember.

That trend has continued here on the beautiful Gold Coast, largely owing to the concerted effort of the CGF to convince us all that the Games are "more relevant than ever before".

Those five words have been uttered at every possible opportunity thus far. Gold Coast 2018 chairman Peter Beattie and CGF chief executive David Grevemberg have been among the main perpetrators, while the phrase was also placed into President Louise Martin’s speech at the Opening Ceremony.

It also headlined the CGF’s press release after the spectacle and has now become a favoured hashtag on the organisation’s official Twitter feed.

While there is nothing wrong with a governing body having a mantra and message they are keen to promote to the masses, the point itself should not be free of scrutiny.

This is, after all, an event Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt once reportedly described as a "bit sh**" – a tag the CGF are desperate to move away from.

Bolt’s supposed words, which did seem a bit out of character, in the lead-up to the 2014 Commonwealth Games may only have specifically related to Glasgow’s efforts but they have since consistently been used as a stick to beat the entire event with.

Usain Bolt reportedly made derogatory claims about the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow ©Getty Images
Usain Bolt reportedly made derogatory claims about the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow ©Getty Images

Few athletes competing here would make the same claim about Gold Coast 2018, however. The facilities are second-to-none, the location as perfect as they come and the whole operation has, at the time of writing, been smoother than a sandpaper-free cricket ball.

Yet the question remains: Are the Commonwealth Games as relevant as the CGF say they are?

The campaign to convince the public that the answer is "yes" has been a key feature of the lead-up to the event but some of the competitions have offered reasons to disbelieve the theory.

The lack of entrants in women’s boxing and some of the Paralympic events on the programme is a case in point.

In the former, Australian Taylah Robertson won a bronze medal without throwing a single punch as she received a bye straight through to the semi-finals of the 51 kilograms division.

With only seven entrants in the category, and with boxing not having bouts for bronze, this guaranteed Robertson a place on the podium before the event had even started, making a mockery of the sport and indeed the Games.

Athletes in basketball, hockey and netball must have looked at that with more than a tinge of jealousy as they are required to win at least one match before they can even think of taking home a medal.

Robertson, to her credit, seemed a bit embarrassed by the whole thing yet it is not her fault; the blame lies at the feet of the CGF and the organisers for their decision to include more women’s categories as part of their gender equality mission.

While this is a noble objective and one which should gradually be replicated by other similar sports organisations, it is my view that gender equality should not jeopardise the standard. It clearly has in this instance.

Gold Coast 2018 is the first Commonwealth Games - indeed the first multi-Games event - to have equal medal events for both men and women ©Getty Images
Gold Coast 2018 is the first Commonwealth Games - indeed the first multi-Games event - to have equal medal events for both men and women ©Getty Images

The balance between equality and quality is one which needs to be addressed by the CGF moving forward to Birmingham 2022 and beyond.

From a coverage standpoint, Gold Coast 2018 has failed to breach countries outside of the Commonwealth.

Even those who are part of the region have not completely bought into it; I was told earlier this week that there are just six journalists from the whole of Canada here reporting on the Games.

There have also been some suggestions organisers were expecting as many as 1,600 media and less than 1,000 have validated their accreditation, although the lower turnout can perhaps be explained by the number of major events taking place this year and the financial strain that places on companies in the industry.

How exactly the Games reaches audiences outside of the target market has long been an issue for the CGF and they have been further hampered here by the lack of star names in athletics, largely because of injuries sustained by the likes of Andre De Grasse, Wayde Van Niekerk and Sally Pearson.

After all, if you put the sport’s headline acts on any stage, people will watch, regardless of where or when the event is taking place.

The absence of high-profile competitors in athletics is, however, a problem more indicative of the sport than the Games and it would be hugely unfair to blame the CGF.

Another challenge is that the Commonwealth Games are not perceived to be the pinnacle for most of the sports on the programme as arguably lawn bowlers and netball players are the only athletes who view the event as the ultimate.

Athletics, swimming and cycling, for example, all have well-established world and continental championships which attract considerable financial income and generate headlines across the planet and another event on a crammed calendar could be viewed as an inconvenience.

Sally Pearson became the latest high-profile athlete to withdraw from the Games last week ©Getty Images
Sally Pearson became the latest high-profile athlete to withdraw from the Games last week ©Getty Images

But it would be incorrect to say the Commonwealth Games are an irrelevance. For a start, the CGF has made great strides in areas such as human rights that deserve to be commended, providing a pathway others would be remiss not to follow.

While some multi-sport sporting events are often accused of being insular, grandiose vanity projects which benefit only a few, the CGF believe in an alternative method, one where the Games help drive societal change and extend beyond the realms of the field of play.

"In terms of global impact, our place in the sporting calendar has never been more relevant," said Grevemberg.

"Instead of competing with the Olympic Games - or any other large international sports event - we complement them, but we are different and distinctive.

"I know other organisations are talking about human rights, sustainability, legacy and so on, but no one else is doing what we are doing."

In some ways, it is hard to argue. Grevemberg can sometimes veer too sharply towards platitudes but the amount of work he and the CGF have done in those areas is worthy of praise.

The CGF have also used the Games to champion LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights, staging a gay kiss at the Glasgow 2014 Opening Ceremony, and their charity scheme in the Scottish city allowed them to help improve the lives of those less fortunate across the Commonwealth.

John Barrowman was involved in a gay kiss at the Glasgow 2014 Opening Ceremony ©Getty Images
John Barrowman was involved in a gay kiss at the Glasgow 2014 Opening Ceremony ©Getty Images

On a more basic level, the Commonwealth Games offer the Davids a rare chance to take on the Goliaths, where the likes of the Norfolk Islands and Nauru share the same stage and spotlight as the behemoths of Australia and India.

Ask those in the Cook Islands and Malawi whether the Games are relevant and I am sure the answer will be categorically positive.

"The people who seem to critique it and question its relevance are people who perhaps aren't involved in the sport itself," Australian track cycling legend Anna Meares, a multiple Olympic and Commonwealth champion, said.

"You ask any athlete where the relevance of the Commonwealth Games sit and they'll tell you it's right up there."

That may be true but the Commonwealth Games are still a long way from finally shrugging off the relevance question once and for all.