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April 30, 2018 | by  | in News | [ssba]

The Commonwealth Games

The 4th to the 15th of April marked the 21st Commonwealth Games, more commonly thought of — and given the same amount of recognition — as the Olympics’ poorer, less talented younger cousin. Though still probably the best thing to have happened to the Gold Coast since The GC, an overwhelmingly large number of people had no idea it was even on, let alone cared.

Everyone loves to get all political and talk about the increasing irrelevance of the Games, and how they are just representative of an outdated concept, which is frustrating in itself. Call me an uncultured jock, but I wish for once that this cynicism was sidelined, and the focus was on the Commonwealth values of humanity, equality, and destiny, cliche as this sounds. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that politics and sport should exist in different spheres, and that we should never talk about them in relation to each other. I just believe that this shouldn’t be done at the expense of undermining the years of preparation and hard work put in by the athletes to get where they are.

However, this Commonwealth Games has been slightly different, in that this particular type of political discourse has not come up nearly as much as I expected it to. In fact, throughout the entirety of the Games, only one story seemed to stand out, and that was of Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard — more specifically, the criticism aimed at her competing. Hubbard, who was assigned male at birth, and began hormone replacement in 2012, was criticised by the head coach of the Samoan weightlifting team Jerry Wallwork, who said it was “unfair” that she was competing in the female category, despite her being cleared by the International Olympic Committee to do so. Unfortunately, Hubbard — who was picked to win the gold — had her dreams dashed by a devastating elbow injury.

However, it seems incongruous that in 2018, the biggest story to come out of an international sporting event shouldn’t even really be one. The comments made by Wallwork show a continued ignorance and lack of acceptance towards those in the LGBTQ community, and undermined Hubbard’s talent and hard work, the values of the Commonwealth Games, and other competing athletes, whose successes were overshadowed by these inimical comments.

In light of recent comments made by Australian rugby player Israel Folau (i.e. responding to a question on Instagram about God’s plan for homosexuals with “HELL.. Unless they repent their sins and turn to God”), it is clear that people like Folau and Wallwork are just completely unaware of the public position they are in, and thus the damaging effect that their comments have on athletes, and other young people that bear the brunt of their bigotry. This makes their words completely antithetical to the nature of sport.

The 21st Commonwealth Games was the first time a major sporting event had an equal number of events for male and female athletes. Sophie Pascoe became New Zealand’s first para-athlete to carry the New Zealand flag into the Games. I’m not sure about you, but I did not hear about these milestones nearly as much as I heard about Laurel Hubbard. In a sporting event that is increasingly being seen as irrelevant, it is devastating that the dedication and achievements of athletes are being overshadowed by intolerant and xenophobic beliefs.

As a sports fan, I am an advocate for absolutely talking about state-sponsored doping, match-fixing, and ball-tampering. However, it is more important for people (looking at you, Wallwork) to consider whether or not the “issue” that they’re so fired up about has a negative effect on sport — or if their words have a negative effect on the people that they choose to persecute instead. For the sake of the beauty and integrity of sport, and out of respect to the athletes, we musn’t let it all be undermined by our own personal politics. Following a Commonwealth Games that has been marked by — predominantly — apathy and ignorance, in the future, the athletes, at the very least, deserve to have our support.


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