Common wealth of sport strives for social change
2018-05-01 15:40:50 -
By Ken McCue

Sport creates a bond of solidarity that unites a third of the world’s population as citizens of the Commonwealth of Nations. 

For over 80 years, the Commonwealth Games Federation has taken a global leadership role in uniting the Commonwealth’s athletes, citizens and communities through the transformative power of sport through values of humanity and equality.

Among the membership are some of the world’s largest and smallest countries – from India, with over 1.2 billion people, to Nauru, with a population of just 10,000. More than 60 per cent of the Commonwealth’s citizens are aged under 30.

This year’s Commonwealth Games in Australia’s Gold Coast, which closed on 15 April, were heavily immersed in ideas of positive social change, and commitment to action. The 2018 games were about creating an impact way beyond the podium.

Beyond the world class sporting and cultural events, Gold Coast 2018 has left a lasting positive legacy for communities across the state of Queensland and indeed across the Commonwealth. These games were the first of their kind to have a reconciliation action plan, or RAP, which is a practical plan of action based on relationships, respect, and opportunities. The RAP is designed to create social change and economic opportunities for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive David Grevemberg coined the phrase ‘Game of Firsts’, reflecting on not only the implementation of the RAP but also the equal medal opportunities (133 each) for men and women for the first time at any international major multi-sport event, and also to the largest ever fully integrated para-sport programme.

The 11-day competition saw 275 athletes win gold medals, but it was also marked by its messages of social change as much as the athletic excellence on display.

It was celebration of diversity and inclusion from the outset, with the prominent celebration of Australia’s indigenous culture in the opening ceremony. The Rwandan women’s beach volleyball team were some of the many athletes continuing the trend of political expression, as they wore black armbands to mark the 24th anniversary of the Tutsi genocide.

English diver Tom Daley won his fourth Commonwealth Games gold medal as he and partner Dan Goodfellow won the synchronised 10m platform. Following his victory, Daley directly called for Commonwealth countries to decriminalise homosexuality.

“By Birmingham and the next 2022 Commonwealth Games, I really hope we see a decrease in that number of countries that criminalise LGBT issues,” Daley said. Currently, homosexuality is illegal in 70 per cent of the 53 Commonwealth countries. “I feel with the Commonwealth, we can really help push some of the other nations to relax their laws on anti-gay stuff.”

While the Commonwealth Games are not unique in having athletes speak their mind on social issues, the institution actively supports and uplifts their voices. 
This backing starts at the top with Grevemberg. “We’re starting to see a number of these things play out in terms of athletes’ commitments to different causes,” he said, adding: “We absolutely want to be trailblazers for a new movement in sports.” 

Prior to the games, Grevemberg spoke of the hope that the event would provide a “fantastic opportunity to magnify awareness of a host of issues, to take advocacy positions, and connect athletes and sports with the social change agenda; from human rights, LGBT rights, and climate change, to female empowerment and indigenous reconciliation.”

It remains to be seen if the Commonwealth Games will continue to leave a legacy that will inspire the Olympic Movement and Fifa, among others, to realise the social responsibility of sport in promoting human rights.
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