Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Commonwealth Games: Golden legacy drives sevens stars

Commonwealth Games evoke special memories for many sports

Five Commonwealth Games campaigns will provide invaluable experience for Gordon Tietjens' NZ side when sevens debuts at the Olympics in 2016. Phtoo / Getty Images
Five Commonwealth Games campaigns will provide invaluable experience for Gordon Tietjens' NZ side when sevens debuts at the Olympics in 2016. Phtoo / Getty Images

Commonwealth Games gold was the first goal rugby sevens coach Sir Gordon Tietjens wrote for this year; Glasgow 2014 is a "pathway to the Olympics" for New Zealand Olympic Committee secretary-general Kereyn Smith; and it's "almost a pinnacle event" for Bowls New Zealand national coach Dave Edwards.

The three opinions present a defence against arguments — elsewhere on these pages — that the Commonwealth Games have become a tired sporting memorial to outposts of Empire.

The trio will attend the Glasgow Games, estimated to cost around $1 billion, with varying motives.

For Tietjens, it's the last multi-sport event his side attends before sevens transitions to the 2016 Olympics. For Smith, it's a chance to showcase the NZOC shop window and, more importantly, provides a dress rehearsal for Rio de Janeiro. For Edwards, it's about performing at bowls' Olympic equivalent.

Tietjens says the Commonwealth Games evoke special memories, having taken every gold medal since his sport debuted in Kuala Lumpur 16 years ago.

"I think of a defining moment in the Delhi final [2010]. Australia was leading. My captain DJ Forbes was totally exhausted and faced with an overlap in cover defence. He surged at a player, they knocked the ball on, [Sherwin] Stowers snaffled it and broke through to set up a try to win the game. I asked DJ afterwards: 'What were you motivated by?' and he said, 'I didn't want to be in the first sevens team to miss a gold medal'. I had no idea. We'd never mentioned that during the week. The Commonwealth Games now hold that legacy for us."

Tietjens' affections extend wider.

"Even as a youngster, I remember [Dick] Tayler winning [the 10,000m] in Christchurch. The feats of John Walker [1974, 1982] and Peter Snell [1962] were also right up there.

"It's about respecting other sports as well as rugby. You build a camaraderie with other New Zealanders in the village as one sporting team. You could sit down to lunch with a hockey player, a shooter or a swimmer. Every athlete has worked so hard to get there, so there's mutual respect."

Smith describes the event as "not insignificant" because it's a chance for 71 countries with a lot of common history to compete.

"Let's be clear, they're not the Olympics — but they don't pretend to be.

"They reflect a shared history as part of the Commonwealth, of which the Games are now probably the most visible event outside CHOGM [the biennial Commonwealth heads of government meeting].

"For sports like swimming, bike, athletics and triathlon, the Games are important as the only multisport event they get before the Olympics. European athletes have European championships, Asian athletes have the Asian Games, the Americas have the Pan American Games. For many Oceania countries, the Commonwealth Games fulfil a similar objective.

"It's a chance for athletes, coaches and technical officials to understand the dynamics of a multisport event from accreditation to traffic to food halls. It's a valuable experience."

Smith describes bowls, squash and netball as "heartland Commonwealth sports" because a gold medal is close to — if not the pinnacle — of achievement.

"And for sports which don't get much targeted funding, like badminton, judo, weightlifting and shooting, we've had past Commonwealth success. It's their chance to shine."

Smith points to the Commonwealth Games as a means to reach an estimated 1.5 billion television audience in one multisport hit.

"Sometimes it's hard to engage with New Zealanders through individual world championships but a multi-sport event offers wall-to-wall coverage. Broadcasters are willing to pay, so they must see some value.

"Countries also wouldn't spend the money to host if they couldn't see a tangible economic and social return.

"I expect a high level of organisation for the Gold Coast in 2018 and there have now been expressions of interest for 2022.

"I'm aware feasibility studies are soon likely to be conducted for 2026 as well. There's a brighter future than the uncertainty after Delhi, which was bad for the brand."

The strength of bowls as an almost purely Commonwealth sport provides the catalyst for Edwards.

"They are effectively our Olympics as a multisport event. The world championships are probably the pinnacle but there's a camaraderie to the Commonwealth Games where you get to meet people with a common historical thread.

"First and foremost they're a sporting event ... but a lot of people like the old monarchy stuff."

- Herald on Sunday

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