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Commonwealth Games 2018: Games ‘never more relevant’ for Federation chief executive

PUBLISHED: 07:30 04 April 2018

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Glasgow 2014 chief executive David Grevemberg at Hampden Park, during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (pic David Davies/PA)

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Glasgow 2014 chief executive David Grevemberg at Hampden Park, during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (pic David Davies/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

Commonwealth Games Federation boss David Grevemberg believes the event has never been more ‘relevant’ than it is now – because it has finally stopped trying to be a mini Olympics.

Queen Elizabeth II is welcomed by Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation David Grevemberg, Director of the Royal Commonwealth Society Michael Lake (centre) and Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum Carl Right (right) on arrival at Marlborough House, London, to launch a new Commonwealth Hub (pic Hannah McKay/PA)Queen Elizabeth II is welcomed by Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation David Grevemberg, Director of the Royal Commonwealth Society Michael Lake (centre) and Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum Carl Right (right) on arrival at Marlborough House, London, to launch a new Commonwealth Hub (pic Hannah McKay/PA)

The 21st Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast has 71 teams set to compete in 275 events, and will see a number of firsts, including women having the same number of medal opportunities as men and a record number of 38 para events on the programme.

But, despite the fact the Commonwealth represents one third of the world’s population, the Games will, as ever, have to answer questions about their quality, relevance and links to Britain’s imperial past.

Those, however, are questions Grevemberg feels the movement is better placed to answer than ever before.

Speaking to Press Association Sport, the man who led Glasgow’s successful staging of the Games in 2014 said: “In terms of global impact, our place in the sporting calendar has never been more relevant.

“Instead of competing with the Olympic Games – or any other large international sports event – we complement them, but we are different and distinctive.

“I know other organisations are talking about human rights, sustainability, legacy and so on, but no one else is doing what we are doing.”

Grevemberg, who spent 10 years with the International Paralympic Committee before joining Glasgow 2014, listed the work on gender equality as an example of how the Commonwealths have taken the lead.

As well as parity on medals, more than half of the officials in sports such as cycling, rugby sevens and swimming will be women and Gold Coast 2018 is running the first women’s coaching internship scheme at a major multi-sport event.

Human rights work is another area where the Games score well, as was seen when the CGF’s partnership with UNICEF was placed at the centre of the 2014 opening ceremony as part of a campaign that raised £6.5million.

For Gold Coast 2018, the big message will be on indigenous reconciliation, with members of Australia’s indigenous community involved throughout as staff, volunteers and leaders in the cultural programme.

Pointing to its advocacy of LGBT rights, how it helps small and island states compete on the world stage and the way it has taken collective positions on apartheid and climate change, Grevemberg said the CGF is now more of a “social purpose movement” than a “Games deliverer”.

The American also dismisses the idea the Commonwealth is a relic from Britain’s colonial past and sees it as a growing group of 53 nations with democratic values, a belief in fairness and a shared history that spans Gandhi, Bob Marley and Nelson Mandela.

He even has an answer to those who question the quality of sport on offer, saying the CGF offers host cities more flexibility than other organisations so they can pick sports relevant to them and raised qualification standards mean there are no more competitor-tourists involved.

That said, it was only eight years ago that the Games were held in Delhi, an event dogged by delays and infrastructure problems in the build-up, which prompted the Indian government to hold a corruption investigation afterwards.

Grevemberg is adamant there were many positive elements to Delhi 2010 but admits it was a “watershed” in terms of how the CGF helps hosts prepare and “partners” them in their legacy plans.

The learning process has not been entirely smooth either, as last year the CGF was forced to strip Durban of the right to stage the 2022 Games after the South African city had to admit it could not afford them.

Grevemberg describes this as “no one’s fault – things just changed, socially and economically” and says the fact the CGF was able to find “Birmingham, THE Commonwealth city” as a replacement shows the movement’s resilience.

He even sees Brexit as an opportunity, with the UK now keen to work more closely with its former colonies.

“We are not the Olympics and we never will be but things like Brexit help define what we are good at and why our relevance is unquestionable,” he concluded.

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