INDIA: The Commonwealth Games, currently managed by the Commonwealth Games Federation, is a quadrennial international sports event which boasts competitive athletes from the Commonwealth of Nations.
The idea for this event was first broached by Australian-born Astley Cooper who envisioned a competitive sports event to flaunt the unity of the British Empire at the height of its power.
The inception of these games began with the “Festival of the Empire” in 1911, to commemorate the coronation of King George V. Teams from countries like the United Kingdom, Australasia (Australia and New Zealand), Canada and South Africa participated in a series of events that included athletics, boxing, wrestling and swimming.
The inaugural games were held at Hamilton, sporting 400 competitors from eleven countries to engage in lawn bowls, boxing, rowing, swimming and wrestling. The English team emerged with a great record of medals.
Women only competed in the swimming events. It was eventually decided that the games would be held every four years in varying Commonwealth countries, preferably midway between the Olympic Games.
The second British Empire Games landed in controversy when the location of Johannesburg, South Africa gave the press a field day over apartheid concerns. The location was then shifted to London. Sixteen countries participated and women finally made their debut in athletics. The third Games were held in Sydney in 1938, following a 12-year hiatus on account of World War II and eventually continued in 1950 in Auckland, New Zealand.
The 1954 event marked a turning point in the trajectory of the Games as they were live telecasted and contested by countries that were no longer a part of the British Empire.
Hence the new name, “British Empire and Commonwealth Games” reflects this legacy. The 1954 event also debuted the Queen’s Baton Relay, where the Queen’s Baton is handed over in a relay starting from Buckingham Palace in London to the actual Games venue.
During the 1970 Games held in Edinburgh, Scotland, the name was changed to “British Commonwealth Games” and metric units were used instead of imperial units for the first time. This was also the first Games attended by Queen Elizabeth II in her role as head of the Commonwealth.
In 1978, the name was eventually settled on “Commonwealth Games” and held in Edmonton Canada in perilous situations. The Games were boycotted by Nigeria to protest New Zealand’s sporting relations with apartheid-era South Africa.
Again in 1986, the Games witnessed social ostracisation from various countries. 32 Asian, African and Caribbean countries ostracised the game over UK Government’s refusal to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa. Held in Victoria, Canada in 1994, the Games saw the return of South Africa post-apartheid and Hong Kong participated for the last time before its transfer of sovereignty from Britain to China in 1997.
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