Commonwealth Games

Introduction to the Games

Since their inception in 1930, the Commonwealth Games have always been true to a simple philosophy. 

They should be

 "merrier and less stern and will substitute the stimulus of a novel adventure for the pressure of international rivalry".

The idea of a

"periodical gathering in a festival and contest of industry, culture and sport"

had been proposed in 1891 by John Astley Cooper, but it was not until 1911 that a multi-sport competition was organised at Crystal Palace to help celebrate the coronation of King George V. 

Athletics, boxing, swimming and wrestling decided the destiny of a trophy donated by Lord Lonsdale, and Canada were the winners.

"Lasting good will be the outcome of our participation,"

concluded Australian official Richard Coombes.

In the days following the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, officials of the new Achilles Athletic Club organised a match between a combined British Empire team and the United States of America.

This proved so popular that many were locked outside and, when it was repeated in 1924, Chelsea Football Club's home of Stamford Bridge was used.

Canadian official Norton Hervey Crow called for a more ambitious competition.

Hamilton in Canada hosted the inaugural edition of the Games in 1930 ©ITG
Hamilton in Canada hosted the inaugural edition of the Games in 1930 ©ITG

In 1928, Commonwealth sports officials met during the Amsterdam Olympics. Leading the way was Melville Marks Robinson, known to all as "Bobby". He was manager of the Canadian team and doubled as a reporter for the Hamilton Spectator newspaper.

There was some dissatisfaction about how the Games in Amsterdam had been organised, and in particular how amateur regulations had been applied.

The group met again in London shortly afterwards where a Canadian proposal for “Empire Games” was formally accepted.

Hamilton, described as "the athletic centre of Canada", was to host the Games in 1930.

Edward Wentworth Beatty, the President of the Canadian Pacific Railway, took a leading role in one of the committees organising the Games and also gave more tangible help. 

Teams arriving on the west coast were transported to the Games by his railway.

The intrepid band of sportsmen and sportswomen in August 1930 came from 11 nations and territories. The visiting teams arrived after long and exhausting journeys.

Funds were short and Scottish music hall star Harry Lauder personally subsidised the travel of the Scottish team.

The general rules stipulated that the Games were open "to any member of the Commonwealth of Nations" and that "amateur athletes only are allowed to participate".

"Should the amateur standing of any contestant be challenged, the matter will be considered by a special appeal committee," it was ruled.

The "merrier and less stern" philosophy was taken to heart by spectators after New Zealand's Allan Elliott was disqualified after two false starts in the 100 yards. 

The crowd was said to have made so much noise that it was impossible to continue the racing until Elliott was allowed back.

In complete contrast to the present day Games, five of the six sports contested were open only to men. Women only competed in swimming and diving.

Twenty-four-year-old swimmer Gladys Pidgeon was New Zealand's only female team member. 

An image of the medals which were presented in Hamilton in 1930 ©ITG
An image of the medals which were presented in Hamilton in 1930 ©ITG

Her participation was conditional on the presence of her mother as her chaperone, which came at her own expense.

English swimmer Joyce Cooper was the most successful individual competitor as she returned home with four gold medals.

After each victory she stood on a podium. This was a three-tiered dais so that the winners could be

"seen by spectators and properly recognised".

Among the spectators was International Olympic Committee President Count Henri de Baillet-Latour, who incorporated the medal podium into the Olympic Games after seeing it in Hamilton. 

In response to worried IOC members, Baillet-Latour concluded that fears the Commonwealth Games would

"seriously prejudice the Olympiad in 1932 were quite groundless".

Hamilton's success assured the future of the Commonwealth Games. Despite the interruption of the Second World War, the event had almost tripled in size by the time of the 1958 Games in Cardiff. 

In 1970, the Games were televised in colour for the first time, adopted metric distances and numbered Queen Elizabeth II among enthusiastic supporters.

Prince Philip coined the phrase

"the Friendly Games"

- a nickname which stuck.

The Games have grown to embrace 72 nations and territories, including some which were never part of the old British Empire. They have been attracted by an organisation which has "an enduring commitment to human rights, democracy and the rule of law".

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Commonwealth Games Timeline

Follow the history of the Commonwealth Games from 1891 to the present day.

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Commonwealth Games Value Framework

The Commonwealth Games Value Framework offers six "critical success factors" to hosting the Commonwealth Games. 

It recommends that they "should be seen as a driver with the potential to influence a city's wider long term strategy, not a stand-alone event".  

Benefits and legacies should be part of the Games plan from the outset. The Framework emphasises the importance of harnessing the "feel good" factor by placing local communities at the heart of the Games. 

Organisers should also use what are described as "Games assets" across host city communities. 

This include the Queen's Baton Relay before the Games, the ceremonies, volunteers, the athletes and cultural festivals. 

All of these can "drive social and community benefits and shared experiences that enhance social cohesion".

The Framework is a detailed study and was created by PricewaterhouseCoopers in conjunction with the vision set out by the Commonwealth Games to "use sport to create peaceful, sustainable and prosperous communities across the Commonwealth".

Conceived to support the Commonwealth Games Federation's "Transformation 2022" plan, it recognises the importance of "demonstrating the positive impact of sport on society". It also draws attention to benefits that are not always immediately apparent.

The 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester were pivotal to the city's regeneration ©Getty Images
The 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester were pivotal to the city's regeneration ©Getty Images

The study closely examines Commonwealth Games staged since 2000 and shows how they can be used as a part of wider city development.

It highlights how, in the decades before Manchester 2002, the eastern part of the city had suffered from high unemployment, social exclusion and crime. The Games then acted as a catalyst for regeneration.

The report suggests that "local residents began to see the Games as part of a wider regeneration plan" in Manchester.

After Manchester 2002, city council chief executive Howard Bernstein said:

"If we didn't have the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, the regeneration would be 20 years behind."

The main athletics stadium, part of a £234 million investment in sporting venues, was later leased to Premier League club Manchester City, an arrangement which then encouraged further investment from the United Arab Emirates.

For 2006, the "in demand" Melbourne Cricket Ground was increased in capacity with 30,000 seats and the aquatics centre became a public facility as part of big investment to sporting facilities. 

It was a similar story with the Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow, which was in public use with 5.4 million visitors in the two years before the 2014 Games.

Gold Coast's investment in its sporting infrastructure for 2018 left the area with "availability of stadia for elite events and public use" and Brisbane and Queensland have now been named as the preferred candidate for the 2032 Summer Olympics.

The athletes' living quarters in Melbourne and Glasgow were turned into social housing while investment in the Athletes' Village in Gold Coast led to more than 1,250 apartments and townhouses offered for long term rent.

Other social benefits highlighted in the report include Glasgow's acclaimed partnership with UNICEF, which generated more than £6 million and has helped children in 52 Commonwealth Nations.

An acclaimed partnership with UNICEF was part of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images
An acclaimed partnership with UNICEF was part of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images

Gold Coast 2018 featured a training programme initiated by the host broadcasters, which involved almost 1,000 students and young professionals.

The Games have generated between 13,000 and 23,000 full time employment years, before, during and after the Games.

Organisers also initiated a Reconciliation Action Plan in Gold Coast which prioritised "relationships, respect and opportunities". This aimed to build stronger links with indigenous groups and offered training, employment and business development.

At Glasgow 2014, 50,000 people applied to become "Clyde-sider" volunteers and 12,000 were selected.

The report said that "Clyde-siders believe that volunteering has increased their confidence, knowledge and skills in addition to playing a role in showcasing Glasgow and enhancing the city’s reputation".

The report recommended that "early engagement and community building activities" had been critical to success.

It was a similar story in Manchester, Melbourne and Gold Coast where the study revealed a willingness among volunteers to repeat the experience.

The report highlighted how hosting the Games "can inspire community pride and confidence" and even encourage citizens to use public transport more readily.

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Commonwealth Youth Games

The Commonwealth Youth Games were born as the new millennium dawned.

They were conceived as Games for the next generation and the age group of 14 to 18 reflects that aim.

An agreement to hold the Commonwealth Youth Games was reached at a meeting of the Commonwealth Games Federation in 1998. The first host city in 2000 was Scottish capital Edinburgh, a city rich in Commonwealth Games heritage from 1970 and 1986. 

The centrepiece of the event was Meadowbank where the athletics track, indoor hall and Royal Commonwealth Pool were all used in a direct legacy from 1970.

The Commonwealth Youth Games serve as an important stepping stone for athletes of the future ©Getty Images
The Commonwealth Youth Games serve as an important stepping stone for athletes of the future ©Getty Images

A limit of 1,000 competitors was set and the duration fixed at no more than seven days, including one "cultural day".

The first Games featured 733 participants who came from Australia, Barbados, Canada, England, India, Isle of Man, Jersey, Malaysia, Nauru, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Wales and Zimbabwe.

The programme was initially limited to eight sports and in 2000 comprised athletics, fencing, gymnastics, hockey, tennis, squash, swimming and weightlifting. 

The city donated a silver "quaich" - a two handled drinking cup standing 13cm high and 18cm wide.

This was to be presented to the next host city of the Games.

The Commonwealth Youth Games take place every four years - just like the Commonwealth Games. Although the first three Games were held in the "mid year" of the Commonwealth Cycle, this was later adjusted so they would not coincide with an Olympic year.

The roll of honour soon included some illustrious names who were destined to find success at senior level. These included gymnast Beth Tweddle from England and swimmers Jodie Henry of Australia and South Africa's Natalie du Toit. In athletics, future hurdles champion Sally Pearson from Australia and England's heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill made names for themselves.

Irish boxer Carl Frampton, a future world champion, has tweeted his fond memories of attending the Commonwealth Youth Games.

Athletes aged between 14 and 18 compete at the Commonwealth Youth Games ©Getty Images
Athletes aged between 14 and 18 compete at the Commonwealth Youth Games ©Getty Images

The size and scope of the Games expanded to the extent that, in 2008, all 71 nations and territories sent competitors to Pune in India.

The Games are typically staged in smaller cities and, since the 2011 celebration in Douglas on the Isle of Man, they have visited the Pacific Island of Samoa and The Bahamas.

That trend will continue with the next Games which are set to be held in Trinidad and Tobago.

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Youth Games Timeline

Follow the history of the Commonwealth Games from 1997 to the present day.

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