The Commonwealth Games has a long history dating back to 1930 but nowadays a high proportion of top athletes are from outside the Commonwealth and major stars from within it are turning their backs on the competition.
Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and a number of other Jamaican sprinters were quick to decide that the games were beneath them. In fact the men’s 100m, so often considered the flagship event, contained none of the top 11 sprinters in the Commonwealth rankings, let alone the World rankings.
Australia’s World discus champion, Dani Samuels and Kenya’s 800m world record holder, David Rudisha both also followed suit and pulled out of the competition. Closer to home, Phillips Idowu, Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis all prioritised the European Championships in Barcelona, winning gold there and choosing not to compete in Delhi.
As a natural consequence, the winning times and distances in almost all of the track and field events were worse than those in the European Championships and last year’s World Championships in Berlin. In some events the difference was startling. The winning time in the women’s 200m for example was more than half a second off the pace and in the men’s equivalent it was over a second slower.
Cycling events were similarly affected by withdrawals, mainly due to the scheduling of Cycling’s European Championships for less than a month after the conclusion of the Commonwealth Games. Consequently, Olympic Champions Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton were high-profile absentees. The European Championships also offer the opportunity to gain points towards Olympic qualification, so it is hardly surprising that it is prioritised by most athletes.
There are undoubtedly many issues to address if the games are to continue to be relevant in a modern sporting context. Not least, the timing of the event. October is at the end of the athletics season and not attractive to many top athletes but in 2014 it will be held in Glasgow in July, probably just weeks apart from the European Athletics Championships in Zurich. This will surely lead to more mass withdrawals.
Organisers do acknowledge there is work to be done. Commonwealth Games Federation President, Mike Fennell said:
“We have to make sure we present the Games in a more positive way and rebuild that demand in the lead-up to Glasgow 2014.”
This may be easier said than done though and even more worryingly, there are only two bids to host the competition in 2018. One is from the Gold Coast in Australia and the other from the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota, which has a population of just 15,000.
Quite apart from the stay-away superstars, sub-standard performances and scheduling difficulties, the competition often referred to as ‘the friendly games’ is struggling to be taken seriously in today’s professional sporting arena. Furthermore, the whole notion of the Commonwealth is beginning to seem just a little archaic and outdated in the modern world.