Commonwealth Games Too Common

By Jason Menard

You may not have thought it was possible, but there is – in fact – something less relevant to our lives than the Olympics. Perhaps you may have missed it but Melbourne, Australia is proudly hosting the 18 th Commonwealth Games.

Or, as I like to refer to them, the Notably Absent of Well-Funded, Talented Athletes Where We Can Actually Dominate and Feel Good About Ourselves Games.

Much like the schoolyard kid who is too weak to compete with children his own age, yet revels in dominating the kindergarten kids on the basketball court, the Commonwealth Games lets us watch as we rack up medals against such luminous competition as Belize, the Falkland Islands, and the powerhouse Papua New Guinea club.

Forgive me if I don’t rush to set my PVR so as not to miss a second of this riveting action.

All it takes to compete is to come from a country that was once a colony of Britain. That’s it. And, thanks to a quirk in geography, we Canadians step up to the games as one of the bigger fish in this artificially smaller sea. Along with England and the host country Australia, we get the pleasure of sending our athletes to kick a little Melbourne sand into the faces of our geographically weaker Commonwealth buddies.

Because of this, the Olympics run rings – pun fully intended – around the Commonwealth Games in terms of the level of competition in the events. The only thing these events enable us to do is gauge how our future Summer Olympians are faring against lesser competition. I suppose if we’re losing to Cyprus and Tongo, it’s time to revisit our funding and coaching.

The proof of the Commonwealth Games’ lack of relevance is evidenced simply by the fact that few of us can remember any of the past champions – not to mention any breathtaking moments. These games come and go, with barely a blip on the athletic radar. At least the Olympics, as hypocritical as people are in watching and supporting them, are spectacle enough to receive – if not warrant – mass media coverage.

The Olympics are the big show. The Commonwealth Games are on the level of the Pan-Am Games as events that you can safely miss without a tinge of regret.

Now, let me state that I don’t want to denigrate the effort and dedication that the athletes that compete in these games have shown. In fact, they’re to be admired for attempting to compete at the highest level possible, in spite of a notable lack of interest from their home countries.

But where are the Petro-Canada tie-ins for our Commonwealth athletes? Where are the endless loop of commercials dominating our television screens drumming up support for our proud Canadians competing under our flag for our honour? Where is the water-cooler talk in the office about how many golds we’ll win?

It’s not there. Because, in general, we don’t really care about our athletes – at least not for three years and 50 weeks. Many of us become armchair experts during the two-week Olympic period and live and die with the fates of our Canadian athletes. Yet it’s a hypocritical, vicarious pleasure that we allow ourselves to enjoy because we haven’t earned it. We don’t support these athletes at any other time of their training.

And these athletes, so anonymous in their toil at the Commonwealth Games, will be front-page news and first-and-foremost in the minds of the average Canadian in two years when the Summer Olympics roll around. But where is our support for them now, before the bright lights cast off by the Olympic flame illuminate their faces?

A search on the official games’ Web site indicates that we’ve sent a total of 144 athletes to the event, with the most notable name being young diving star Alexandre Despatie. But I’d say its safe to say that few Canadians will remember these athletes’ exploits over the next few days in Melbourne the moment the games over.

Heck, most of us won’t remember them by the time we wake up.

The Games’ official mascot is Karak, a South-Eastern Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo. With only 1,000 of these birds remaining they’re on the precipice of extinction. This is all somewhat appropriate considering that’s this is where the Commonwealth Games should be – extinct.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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