The 2018 Commonwealth Games hosted around 4,500 athletes from 71 countries which were formerly part of the Commonwealth. Held every 4 years, the Commonwealth Games has a similar level of interest and excitement as the Olympics. However, the 1982 protests in Brisbane first called the origin of the Commonwealth into question, with indigenous tribes protesting against what they see as a celebration of the barbaric colonisation of the British Empire. Should the Commonwealth Games be stopped as a sign of recognition for the atrocities of the colonial powers? Or should it continue to be held, giving the talented young athletes of smaller countries such as the Bahamas, Belize, and Nauru, an opportunity to compete at international level and be recognised for it?
With only 6 athletes, The Gambia is the smallest team to have competed in the Commonwealth Games this year. Tuvalu, Saint Kitts and Saint Nevis, Montserrat, Brunei and Bermuda only have 7 or 8 athletes each. Compared with the impressive 474-strong team of Canada, or 396 for England, the athletes of these smaller teams certainly have something to compete against. But the results have been impressive. The Malawi netball team beat New Zealand 75-53, giving an exciting twist to a sport usually dominated by Australia and New Zealand. The Bahamas and Botswana, with 32 and 26 athletes respectively, achieved an impressive 4 medals each in Athletics. Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas won her first Commonwealth Gold in the 200m sprint, aged 23 years. Baboloki Thebe from Botswana won silver in the Men’s 400m and was part of the Gold medalist relay team, aged only 21 years. Anish Bhanwala from India became the youngest ever competitor to win a gold medal (in the Men’s 25m Pistol Rapid Fire), at the impressively young age of 15. But are these achievements enough to justify the continued homage to the British Empire?
Until 1966, the Games were called the ‘British Empire Games’. They have since been called the ‘British Empire and Commonwealth Games’, the ‘British Commonwealth Games’, and finally the ‘Commonwealth Games’ from 1978 onwards. Did the name change simply to modernise? Or was it an attempt to take a step away from association with the Empire?
The 1982 Commonwealth Games, held in Brisbane, are remembered predominantly for the notorious demonstrations by the Aboriginal people of Australia. The protests held this year on the Gold Coast have been defended as a continuation of what was started in 1982. Using the same slogan from the 2006 protests in Melbourne of ‘Stolenwealth Games’, the protesters wish to continue the fight of the First Nations in the 1700s of resistance to British colonisation of the continent. These protests, just like those of 1982 and 2006, fight for equality and justice for the Aboriginal people. It seems many still suffer from racism and social disadvantages even in the modern day.
The British Empire has great fame throughout history. Admittedly, this comes from its impressive size and power but also the undeniably barbaric legacy of the colonists. However, it is all too easy to blame the current social struggles of the Aboriginal people in Australia on a 300 year old legacy. The British Empire no longer exists as it did and the countries which were formerly governed underneath the British crown are now autonomous, with their own constitutions and codes of law. The protests on the Gold Coast should certainly not be ignored, but perhaps it is time for Australia to take the social inequalities suffered by some members of their nation into its own hands. This is not to say that the actions of the British colonists was acceptable, but the past cannot be changed. The Commonwealth Games are an opportunity to celebrate the present and the future, with many talented young athletes achieving impressive feats of sportsmanship, and to dwell instead on the past is cast a shadow on the achievements and celebrations of these athletes.