The organisers of the Commonwealth Games have defended its relevance on the eve of the competition, arguing that it continues to thrive. Speaking before the opening ceremony, Katie Sadleir, the CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation, was adamant that the event has not become irrelevant.
“It will be far from that,” said Sadleir. “This is an organisation that embraces the 72 nations. We just had a general assembly, we heard from Birmingham, we heard from 2026, we announced that we’re going to have the Youth Games in Trinidad next year. We have other countries that are lining up, waiting to be part of that pipeline in the Games of the future.”
Among the issues in recent years has been the cost of hosting the games, with Durban in South Africa dropping out due to financial constraints, but Sadleir identified one of the biggest challenges as appealing to younger audiences. Her organisation has tried to tackle that by initiating the first Commonwealth esports championships.
On Thursday afternoon, activist groups planned to protest the laws that criminalise the LGBTQ+ community in the majority of Commonwealth countries, after Tom Daley spoke out earlier in the week. According to Dame Louise Martin, the president of the CGF, they are working with Daley.
“We see everybody as equal. We don’t see gender, don’t see race, don’t see colour. We see everybody all in one and that’s our ethos and what we’re following. That’s why Katie and [the] team are working with Tom and we’ll see part of that in tonight’s ceremony,” said Dame Martin.
In addition to its relevance, the colonial origins of the Commonwealth Games are a point of discussion, but Martin did not want to address that. “All I will say is we are one family,” she said. “Our 72 nations and territories, we all speak the same language. There’s no dubiety about the feelings or anything like that. We’re all in this together.”
With thousands of athletes having arrived in Birmingham, the sport should at least be enticing. After Thursday night’s opening ceremony, lawn bowls kicks off the Games at 8.30am on Friday. The individual triathlons will headline the opening day a few hours later, with the Olympic silver medalist Alex Yee in action.
One of the biggest spectacles of the Games will be the return of the swimmer Adam Peaty, who suffered a foot injury that forced him to withdraw from the World Aquatic Championships in June. With the 100m breaststroke heats beginning on Saturday, he will chase a third consecutive Commonwealth title.
Even with Dina Asher-Smith’s absence due to a light hamstring strain, it is fair to say the sprinting should be faster than ever. Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson, fresh from winning the 100m and 200m at the world championships with times of 10.67sec and 21.45 respectively, will be present in Birmingham along with Elaine Thompson-Herah. Both of the women’s Games records, 10.85 in 100m and 22.09 in 200m, are at serious risk.
A number of other world-class home nations athletes will be in Birmingham, including Laura Muir, Keely Hodgkinson and the hepthathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson.
In the gymnastics, Northern Ireland’s Rhys McClenaghan will defend his pommel horse title. The men’s and women’s all-around finals will take place on 1 August, marking the return of Claudia Fragapane, the four-time Commonwealth gold medalist in 2014, as well as Alice Kinsella, the only member of the bronze-winning 2020 Olympic team who will be present.
The atmopshere of the Commonwealth Games is always notably different to other events. Para-athletes will compete on the same stages as all others while there will be more women’s medal events (136) than men’s (134). Unlike at an Olympics or world championship, there are no specific medal goals for Team England or others, with the organisation simply stressing the aim of preparing the team as well as possible. It will be intriguing to see where each of the home nations fall.