An Introduction to the Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games, founded in 1930 and originally called the British Empire Games, were conceived as a multi-sport competitive event between the countries that were ruled by Britannia. They went through various re-namings until today’s version, as politics and attitudes shifted. Like the Olympics, these Games are held every 4 years and have been since 1930, with the exceptions of 1942 and 1946 when they were cancelled due to World War II. Over the years, 6 countries have attended every edition of the Games, namely Canada, Australia, England, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales. Overall Australia has been the most successful nation, being the highest achieving team no less than 12 times.

A Brief Commonwealth Games History

The worldwide John Astley Cooper Committees were instrumental in helping Pierre de Coubertin get the modern-day Olympics off the ground, and in 1891 Astley Cooper wrote an article in The Times in which he suggested a sporting competition to bring the members of the British Empire together. The Festival of the Empire was held 20 years later in 1911 to celebrate King George V’s coronation, and an Inter-Empire Championship was held between Canada, Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom in boxing, wrestling, athletics and swimming as part of the celebrations. It took 17 more years for this to evolve further, and in 1928 a Canadian named Melville Marks Robinson was tasked with organising the first British Empire Games that were eventually held in 1930 in Hamilton, Ontario with 11 nations taking part. The Games Flag was donated by the British Empire Games Association of Canada.

Women were only allowed to compete in the swimming events of the Games until 1934, when the scope was expanded to athletics. Paraplegics had to wait until 1962, when the Commonwealth Paraplegic Games were held alongside the other games. The events were gradually brought together, first with exhibition games, until they were fully integrated in the 2002 Commonwealth Games and all results were included in the medal count.

Today’s Games

The Commonwealth Games Federation oversees everything about the Games, including the programme of events and the cities that get to play host. Many of the sports that are played are also featured in the Olympic Games, while there extras that are predominantly played in Commonwealth countries including Netball and Lawn Bowls.

From 11 participating countries in 1930’s first British Empire Games, all 53 members of the Commonwealth of Nations participate in the Games, as well as 18 other dependent territories which compete under their own flag. The United Kingdom’s 4 Home Nations of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales also send separate teams. More and more sports have also been included in the games, and today there are 22 disciplines and a further 7 sports for Paralympians that have been approved by the Commonwealth Games Federation. The sports are categorised into Core, Optional and Recognised Sports. Core Sports must be included in every Games programme, while host countries can choose which games from the Optional list to include. Recognised Sports usually require further development to meet the Federation’s requirements, and are approved in principal but not yet fit for selection in the Games. As the Commonwealth Games expands and becomes more inclusive, John Astley Cooper’s vision seems to be more and more fulfilled.