PETER YOUNG: The games deliver on cherished friendships

Fireworks go off during the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham, England, last Thursday. 
Photo: David Davies/PA via AP

Fireworks go off during the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham, England, last Thursday. Photo: David Davies/PA via AP


Peter Young

The Commonwealth Games are a unique event. They are based on the strength of the Commonwealth itself and are underpinned by the common core values of equality and mutual respect of this 56-member voluntary association and the support and assistance it provides.

As a wonderful festival of sport, the Games unite the Commonwealth family and are a manifestation of what it is all about – a joint history and shared values together with practical co-operation and mutual support that benefits all its member countries, binding together some 2.5 billion people. Traditionally, the Games are contested in a fine spirit of brotherhood and fair play, to the extent that they are often referred to as the ‘Friendly Games’.

Like the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games are held every four years in different countries. The 2022 Games are taking place from July 29 to August 8 in England’s second largest city of Birmingham in the country’s Midlands. This is Britain’s biggest multi-sport event since the London Olympics in 2012 and it is the third time England itself has hosted them. The first time was in London 1934 as the Empire Games; and, more recently, they were held in Manchester in 2002, while, in the UK as a whole, Glasgow in Scotland laid on what were described at the time as the ‘best ever’ Games in 2014.

This year, teams from 72 countries and territories – with, for example, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and certain dependent territories competing individually – comprising a total of some 5,000 athletes, both able bodied and with disabilities, are involved in 19 different sports and 280 medal events - with a billion watching the action at home and around the world.

Last Friday, there was a spectacular opening ceremony, including a flypast by the famous Red Arrows air display team, which was notable for its exuberance and ingenuity in promoting unity. Even though it was also criticised for an over emphasis on diversity and inclusiveness, it was designed to honour the host city of Birmingham and its history and industrial achievements - which included its traditional motor industry with such vehicles as the Aston Martin and Land Rover - and to celebrate everything it stood for as a pioneering city that was now hosting the Commonwealth Games. There was a cast of thousands performing alongside giant puppets and amid an array of pyrotechnics - and the consensus seems to be the opening ceremony got the Games off to a flying start.

The organisers in Birmingham claim their city is now one of the most exciting places in the country. Perhaps their enthusiasm is justified given the President of the Commonwealth Games Federation was quoted as saying ‘this event will be one of the greatest and most important editions of the Commonwealth Games in our 92-year history. Our 72 nations and territories are all here and Birmingham looks magnificent – the perfect stage for our athletes to compete’. All that paints an impressive picture but what a billing it is to live up to!

In the absence of The Queen, who as head of the Commonwealth has always been present at the opening ceremony of the Games over so many years but now has mobility issues, Prince Charles read out her inspiring message. Stressing that they were the ‘Friendly Games’, she spoke of the coming together of so much shared experience and long standing relationships together with the creation of new rivalries so that people succeeded in connecting with one another, wherever they might be in the world, as part of the Commonwealth family of nations.

So far, so good, one might say – and many now fervently hope that the Games live up to their promise. The athletics standards on display at this event have always been top class but, according to press reports I have seen, some superstar athletes will not be competing at Birmingham because of scheduling problems after the recent world track and field championships in Oregon. If that turns out to be the case, doubtless the enforced absence of some of them will be a disappointment not only to the organisers but also the spectators.

As these Commonwealth Games have got under way, the only jarring note that I have spotted has been an ill-informed BBC report commenting on what it called the need for ‘togetherness for a group of nations whose future is becoming increasingly uncertain’. It then goes on to mention that Barbados has replaced The Queen as head of state and Jamaica has said it intends to ‘move on’. This refers to the recent decision by Barbados to become a republic and Jamaica’s announcement that it may also change its existing status as a realm.

To my eye, this report by the BBC shows a misunderstanding of the position of realms and misrepresents the situation. If any other realms - of which there are now 15 including The Bahamas and Britain itself - wish to become republics, such a change is a matter for them to determine. Should they take this path, it would not mean that they would also have to leave the Commonwealth unless they expressly decided to do so. The majority of Commonwealth countries are already republics - and to suggest that the future of the association is now somehow uncertain because of Barbados’ action and Jamaica’s attitude is simply incorrect.


England’s Chloe Kelly, centre, celebrates after scoring her side’s second goal during the Women’s Euro 2022 final soccer match between England and Germany. Photo: Rui Vieira/AP


Members of the triumphant English women’s football team (known as soccer in America) said it all at yesterday’s celebrations with thousands of fans in Trafalgar Square in the heart of London – ‘we play hard and we party harder’. On Sunday, this team created history in winning football’s Women’s European Championship by beating Germany, their old rivals and eight-time champions, in the final at Wembley.

Called the Lionesses, these new sports stars have become the pride of England as they clinched victory to become champions in front of a crowd of nearly 90,000 – including Prince William as President of the Football Association - and large numbers of people watching around the country, with an estimated TV audience of a record 17.4 million.

This was the first such victory for the Lionesses and the first major international football tournament that England has won for 56, since the men’s team triumphed in the 1966 World Cup - also against Germany and also at Wembley!

So this historic win can surely be celebrated as a hugely significant moment for British sport. Already, the euphoria is boundless as people up and down the country celebrate with a mixture of joy and relief after years of disappointment. The Queen has paid tribute to the Lionesses calling them inspirational, and there has been a flood of congratulatory messages.

It is already being said that this outstanding achievement and happy event for the whole nation will stimulate greater interest in women’s football and change it for the good. It will inspire young people to become involved and doubtless lead to further welcome recognition and funding. Having watched the match myself, I think it is clear that these are not only skilled footballers but they have also shown resilience and courage together with a strong will to win.

These players and all those involved in the women’s game deserve the extraordinary plaudits they are receiving for their wonderfully successful efforts on Sunday, and all will now surely hope that they receive every possible support in the future – for they have, indeed, done their country proud.


For many years, the issue of Taiwan has been at the centre of the US bilateral relationship with China. Some say it is the single biggest flash-point between the two countries and tensions seem now to be at a new high. China claims the self-governing democracy of Taiwan – previously called Formosa and some 100 miles off the coast of China with a population of 23 million - is part of China while the US supports it with the supply of substantial military aid and weaponry.

The cause of this latest rise in tension has been the leaked plans about a visit by Nancy Pelosi to the island as part of a high profile tour of several countries in South East Asia. As Speaker of the US House of Representatives, she is the third highest-ranking politician in Washington. A US Congressional delegation visited Taiwan last April, but China has protested vigorously against a trip by Ms Pelosi because it maintains Taiwan has no right to conduct foreign relations and firmly opposes any external interference in the island, especially at such a high level. What is more, according to reports, she is regarded by the Chinese as a long-standing critic who is anyway hardly welcome.

China has threatened unspecified action if her visit goes ahead and has said that the US should ‘bear all the consequences’. At the weekend, its navy conducted live-fire military exercises in the waters around Taiwan and warned ships to avoid the area, and this appeared to be a show of force to try to prevent the visit.

In an atmosphere of heightened tension, last week President Biden had an unusually long telephone call with President Xi Jinping who, reportedly, warned against playing with fire for fear of getting burnt. Apparently, it was unclear whether this referred specifically to the Pelosi visit. But all this should surely be seen against the background of effective US diplomacy in keeping a lid on the Taiwan issue. It is said to have pursued a policy of deliberate ‘strategic ambiguity’ -- adopted since the US recognised the communist People’s Republic of China in 1979 – which has meant acknowledging Beijing’s ‘One China’ policy without endorsing it. But, while making it clear that the US strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, it has intentionally remained vague about how it would come to the aid of Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

At the time of writing, it is still not clear whether Nancy Pelosi will go to Taiwan. In response to the controversy, Biden has said that the Pentagon thought the visit was ‘not a good idea’ but, publicly at least, he has stopped short of forcing her to cancel it because, it is said, as leader of a co-equal branch of government she has the right to go where she chooses.

To some foreign observers, in the circumstances this seems barely credible. The US President surely has the last word in preventing possible damage to the government’s carefully crafted diplomatic stance.

However, it seems the Taiwan issue is unlikely to come to a head any time soon. Although President Jinping spoke of a ‘historic mission and unshakeable commitment’ when talking about unification with Taiwan at the 100th anniversary last year of China’s Communist Party, commentators consider that nothing will happen - if at all - until at least well after the Party congress in the autumn when Xi is expected to strengthen further his grip on the leadership. Moreover, most analysts believe China is wary of risking an open military conflict with the US with its existing military bases around the region. But why, they ask, should Washington risk confrontation with the Chinese over a visit which seems unlikely to produce any real discernible gain to the US – apart, perhaps, from boosting Nancy Pelosi’s vanity before she soon steps down from politics altogether.


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