“The Commonwealth Games and Fiji” (edited version in The Fiji Times, 16 August 2014.
The Commonwealth Games and Fiji
(edited version in The Fiji Times, 16 August 2014)
Sport has a great capacity to bring the different peoples of the world together and to take the spectators minds off the mundane in life, including destructive politics.
We see the joyousness of the Olympics gatherings or the recent football World Cup in Rio.
Then we had the exhilarating Commonwealth Games, where we saw athletes and sports administrators from dozens of countries, of different ethnicities and colors, all coming together in great joy and endeavor.
The Commonwealth Games is also extremely interesting given its origins in the British Empire, trying to understand which countries attend and which do not and why, and which were banned from attending (like Fiji) and allowed at the last moment.
It is also useful to not get caught up in nationalistic fervor, when we see Medal Tally tables which imply certain countries are the “champions” of the Commonwealth Games, when the limited successes of small poor developing countries may well be more praise-worthy.
The strange origins
Once called the Empire Games, the Commonwealth Games is now attended by countries which were once part of the British Empire, and this is still acknowledged today with the Queen of England doing the symbolic opening.
The Games include the “dominions” which were white-dominated settler colonies like Australia, NZ and Canada.
But the Commonwealth Games do not include United States, large parts of which were once also colonies of Britain, some two hundred and fifty years ago. Why not?
Nor does it include the Republic of Ireland, which is just across the water from Britain.
The Commonwealth Games includes colonies of non-white people who were once in colonial times, terribly oppressed by the British, such as India and Zimbabwe.
It is one of the signs of global progress that in the Commonwealth Games today, the once oppressed countries were able to forgive and join the once oppressor countries, in celebration of sport, and in friendly nationalistic competition.
But Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
One of the strange aspects of the Commonwealth Games is that Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland compete as entities separate from England, while in the Olympics they compete together as “Britain”.
When one talks about a “British colony”, the typical image that comes up is of brown, black, or yellow peoples once colonized, controlled and exploited by white British people, not of white people colonized by other whites.
But some historians know only too well that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were once the earliest colonies of England, and just as brutally conquered and exploited as any Indian or African colony and peoples.
Four hundred years ago, the inhumane English conquest and treatment of the Welsh, the Scots and Irish, drove many of them overseas, to US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
For many, their animosities towards the English have continued till today.
Not too long ago the international news every night used to be about the civil war and daily violence in Northern Ireland, with the IRA and the Sinn Fein, battling the British Army, just as we currently see the battles between Palestine, Hamas and Israel. The Irish have not forgiven the British and the Republic of Ireland is not part of the Commonwealth Games. But Northern Ireland participates.
Scotland itself has long had a powerful political movement for independence from London and the English parliament. It is no coincidence that prominent in this year’s Commonwealth Games Opening ceremony was a reminder that the host city of Glasgow gave Nelson Mandela the keys to the city, while he was still in prison in South Africa for opposing apartheid.
This was such an incredibly symbolic and powerful gesture of freedom loving white Scottish people, expressing their heart-felt solidarity with the blacks in their decades of struggle against apartheid and the oppression by the whites in South Africa.
The Commonwealth Games should perhaps be retitled “The Free Commonwealth Games”.
Also prominent in this year’s Games Opening was a great charitable aspect, with fund-raising for UNICEF’s worthy global work for the welfare of poor children, with an equally global participation of UNICEF workers and their host children.
In Fiji, there was very little media fanfare about the participation by Fiji which had been expelled from the Commonwealth in 2009 when Bainimarama refused to hold the elections as he had promised.
There has always been debate, as also in the Olympics, about the appropriateness of using political issues and criteria to punish sports people, who are usually in no position to influence political outcomes in their home countries.
Nearly always, the political masters who are being sanctioned could not care less about the sports sanctions, or the sports people who are being victimized.
I am sure that Fiji sports people were so relieved that they had now been readmitted to the Games (as was clear from the joy of our representatives in Glasgow) that they preferred to not have any media attention, in case they attracted some evil eyes again.
The only blemish was that our rugby sevens team was excluded on the strange grounds that the rugby sevens draw had already been made. I suspect that Fiji was possibly denied a good chance at a medal and moving up the rankings.
With the lifting of sanctions against Fiji occurring at the last minute, other sports which might have had a chance of a medal, did not have enough time to prepare or be entered.
Are Pacific Islands the real Commonwealth Games Champs?
One unattractive side of the Commonwealth Games, or indeed any games in which teams “play for their country”, is the chauvinistic ceremonial flag-raising and playing of the national anthem of the gold medal country.
There is also much hooh hah about the Medals Tally in which countries with the highest number of gold medals or total medals are proudly presented as the “champion” countries.
For the 2014 Commonwealth Games, England, Australia, Scotland and New Zealand were at the top of the medal tally rankings, with great performances by their athletes.
But to be fair, all other things being equal, the numbers of medals won also depends on the total population of the country, the amount of tax-payers’ money that is devoted to sports, and the particular sports being played (not every country has swimmers or gymnastics).
And why take only the number of gold medals, when athletes also value a silver or bronze medal. So let us calculate for each country total points with some weighting system: eg 3 for a gold, 2 for a silver and 1 for a bronze (you could also use 5, 3 and 1).
Then for each country, we can estimate the Total Points per million population as I have done in Table 1.
These are the 37 ranked countries which obtained at least a medal, out of the 71 countries participating.
The results are quite remarkable for our small Pacific countries with their tiny populations: Nauru (1st), Kiribati (3rd), Samoa (4th). Of course, Fiji’s rank (26) would have jumped with just another medal or two.
As in the Olympics, prominent near the top are some of the poorer West Indian countries like Jamaica (9th) and Trinidad (14th) (good to ask why).
NZ (7th) and Australia (12th) are also usually near the top, evidence of their great love for sports and outdoor activities in general.
Nearly always near the bottom are countries like India (33), Pakistan (36) and Bangladesh (37).
Students might like to play around with other criteria, such as Total Points per US$billion of GDP.
The Commonwealth Games results are here at this website (http://www.thecgf.com/sports/results.asp), and the GDP or population data can be easily obtained from the World Bank or IMF websites.
Students can look at my similar analysis (and a bit more) for the 2012 Olympic Games, (available here: https://narseyonfiji.wordpress.com/2012/09/01/who-are-the-real-olympic-champs-islands-business-16-august-2012/
The next Commonwealth Games?
The next Commonwealth Games will be on the Gold Coast in Australia in 2018, which for Fiji should be far less costly to attend, than going to Scotland, the other side of the world.
Will Fiji athletes be allowed to attend? Probably yes.
But there is a possibility that if the Fiji military hierarchy does not accept some particular outcome of the September 2014 Elections (for example, if Bainimarama’s Fiji First Party does not form government) and does another military coup, then the Commonwealth will once more suspend or expel Fiji, given the precedence it has already set.
That will unfortunately also mean that Fiji will not be able to take part in the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
It will be a tragedy if our sports people are once more punished because our military does not respect the democratic outcome of elections and the court’s decisions, as they have done already in 1987, 2000, 2006 and 2009.
Voters who are interested in the welfare of our sports and who would have been deeply upset at our exclusion from the last one in 2010, can ask the different political parties (including Fiji First Party) how much they value Fiji’s participation in the Commonwealth Games, and being a full member of the Commonwealth.