There are those who would like to see an end to the Commonwealth Games (or Comm Games, to use the newly-minted abbreviation favoured by some in the media). The critics say the Games are an anachronism, a reminder of British colonialism, and involving too few sporting super powers to mean much.

Those who think the old British Empire should be expunged from the history books and should not be revived every four years have not been as strident in 2018 as they have been in the past, perhaps because there are no signs of crippling financial cost.

The Australians seem to have organised these Games with more common sense than has been displayed by some hosts in the past, using numerous existing and perfectly adequate facilities rather than building flash new ones that would have had a pre-white elephant life span of 11 days.

"The medal celebrations in some tiny countries that do not have huge sporting budgets, and may only hear their national anthems at a Games once or twice in a lifetime, can be a sight to behold. Who would deny them that?"

It would be a shame if the Games were to be consigned to history though. The Gold Coast Games delivered everything anyone could ask for — tears of joy and despair, unlikely triumphs and unexpected disasters, examples of good and bad sportsmanship (the latter, funnily enough, most notably involving a New Zealander rather than an Australian, who tend to do better at winning ugly or losing ungraciously than we do).


We have seen athletes who were never going to medal celebrating personal bests, national bests, and even the occasional Games record. (Interesting though to note, especially in track and field, the number of world records that were set in the late 1980s, often by Americans, that have never come close to being broken and probably never will).
This newspaper has argued in the past that, to reduce the cost, the Commonwealth Games should be permanently staged in London (and the Olympics in Athens).

It is becoming increasingly difficult to defend a country's moral right to spend vast sums of money on facilities while their people starve, live in uninhabitable hovels or die of treatable diseases, although perhaps the Gold Coast has shown this time how it might be done without breaking the bank.

Support for the Games amongst the common people certainly doesn't seem to be waning. Seventy-two per cent of respondents to last week's Northland Age Facebook poll reckoned this country should host the Games again, which suggests even stronger support for their continuation somewhere else.

The Friendly Games, a tag that goes back to Christchurch 1974, they might not always be, but the Commonwealth Games do still have a certain je ne sais quoi, an indefinable quality that was lost by the Olympics long, long ago.

The world's premier sporting event began to lose its lustre for some well before the Atlanta Games of 1996, but the Americans certainly gave their decline a healthy nudge, thanks in large part to crowds that exhibited delirious joy whenever one of their athletes excelled, and sat in stony silence for those of other nationalities.

Apart from the obscene cost of staging the Olympics, their decline probably began when it was decided that they should no longer be restricted to amateurs. Mind you, there was a time when professional sport was virtually unheard of.

The advent of professionalism produced some wonderful stories though, memorable examples of men and women who made huge personal sacrifices to pursue their dreams, and for whom winning promised only a medal, with no monetary value.

Nowadays medals are enormously valuable, not only for the cash rewards that are generally paid by competitors' governments but in terms of a potential professional future, not to mention commercial endorsements.


Those were the days when New Zealand Olympians, and no doubt others from many countries, raffled pigs in barrows to get to their Games. When they trained before and after work. When they took annual leave to compete. When their preparation did not include travelling overseas to compete against the world's best, the same athletes they would meet at the Games.

Once upon a time Commonwealth and Olympic athletes returned home to their day jobs; these days many leave, often long before the closing ceremony, as did many of New Zealand's track cyclists. to compete in the next event on their programme.
That isn't sport; it's a profession.

Usain Bolt flew in, ran, and flew out again when he competed at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. The same Usain Bolt who last week waxed eloquent on the importance and spirit of the Games, who obviously didn't feel quite so strongly before he retired.

There is no doubt, however, that the Commonwealth Games continue to represent the pinnacle for many athletes. They will never compete with any hope of success, or compete at all, on the world's biggest stage, but can do so on this slightly smaller one, thanks largely to the absence of Americans and Europeans, and even of some of the Commonwealth's bigger names, who do not always show up.

The Australian team might have cleaned up big time on the Gold Coast, but New Zealand celebrated 46 medals, and some superb performances. And where else would athletes from the likes of Saint Lucia, Fiji, Nauru, the Isle of Man, the Seychelles, have an opportunity to compete, successfully, before what is not far short of a global audience?

The medal celebrations in some tiny countries that do not have huge sporting budgets, and may only hear their national anthems at a Games once or twice in a lifetime, can be a sight to behold. Who would deny them that?

The Gold Coast Games were well organised (as far as one could tell; the odd needle slipped into the athletes' village, a few competitors went awol, and by all accounts the army of security people included many who had no idea what they should be doing, or how and where they should be doing it), but those glitches aside they contributed another chapter to a tradition that is well worth preserving.

Thankfully there was an almost total absence of the execrable chant 'Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi,' and the previously much overworked haka, which at some Games of the recent past has been used to celebrate everything from winning gold to catching the right bus.

The largely Australian crowds were generally gracious (although it's nice, from a New Zealand point of view, to observe a silent sea of yellow now and again), and there were enough New Zealanders in some crowds to give our athletes the impression that they were at home.

So now it's on to Birmingham 2022 (Durban, in South Africa, having been granted hosting rights but crying off after it worked out how much it was going to cost), where New Zealand will hopefully give the upper reaches of the medal table a nudge once again, and athletes from countries that most of us would struggle to find on a map will have their well-earned moment in the spotlight.

The Commonwealth Games really do have their place in a world that increasingly seems to believe that winning is everything and everything has its price. They are the closest we will ever get to witnessing a true celebration of sport.

And the highlight of 2018? Eliza McCartney's ebullient response to what many would have expected to be a crushing disappointment, which marked her, again, as a very special New Zealander.