Interest wanes in Games no one wants to play

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 September, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 September, 1998, 12:00am

They are known as the Friendly Games and it's that very friendliness which has resulted in the Commonwealth Games becoming a complete irrelevance.

The athletes in Kuala Lumpur are committed enough but they know that their performances are hardly going to register on sport's Richter scale. So smile, have fun and be friendly.

True, there are a few sportsmen about who can lay claim to being number one in their field, but, let's face it, squash, lawn bowls and tenpin bowling are not the most widely followed sports.

Rugby superstar Jonah Lomu turned up, as did the world's leading batsman, Sachin Tendulkar. But they are the exceptions.

The Australian rugby team's most recognisable face is 35-year-old David Campese, who is beginning to give the term 'swan-song' a bad reputation, and world one-day cricket champions Sri Lanka sent a second-string side.

As for athletics, the big names are either injured, tired ('There's no money on offer so why should I fly halfway round the world to stay in a cramped athletes village and eat canteen food for the sake of a gold medal and a 'well done' from the nation?') or piqued. Sprinters Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin of Canada, Welshman Colin Jackson, Jonathon Edwards of England and Frankie 'How dare the PM say I'm not the best athlete in Namibia?' Fredericks were among the no-shows.

Admittedly, the Australian swim team are world-class, but they are on a beat-the-clock mission more than anything else.

The Commonwealth Games Federation, a jolly band of administrators with an odd assortment of sports and an odder collection of countries on their hands, have talked about finding a niche in the crammed sports calendar.

Why bother? You would be hard-pressed to recall a highlight from the last Games in Victoria. There is a decided lack of star quality in Kuala Lumpur, so what chance Manchester 2002 of capturing the imagination? If it was not for the introduction of rugby sevens and cricket, these Games could have bombed completely. So what are the administrators planning to do? You've guessed it. Cut down the number of team sports for subsequent Games.

The organisers are telling one and all that the Commonwealth Games are the second biggest multi-sports event behind the Olympics. Oh no they're not.

December's Asian Games in Bangkok will have more than double the competitors and sports and far more relevance.

The sun set long ago on the British Empire that gave rise to the Commonwealth, and the Games should have gone the way of the other colonial relics.