June 17, 2019

Stop moaning. This is why the Commonwealth Games are worth celebrating

Yet the Australian sporting public only seems satisfied when our athletes are on top of the world – better than the rest, bar none. We've lost our ability to appreciate effort, individual struggles and personal best results. Instead, it's all about winning on the world stage.


In an environment where our national cricket team's culture has been slammed as unsportsmanlike, many fans have called on our elite athletes to abandon the ''win at all costs'' attitude and reflect on the values we want represented in the way they play and compete.

But as fans, we should also reflect on how we barrack and what we barrack for.

There is nothing quite as inspirational as witnessing any human get the very best out of themselves – in any field. Whether their best is good enough to win a Commonwealth or Olympic medal, the dedication, discipline, strength and effort is the same. But it seems we, as fans, have abandoned the well-known Aussie ideal of respecting those who do their best and "have a go". Now we only respect you if you win and, preferably, win on the world stage.

In truth, the Commonwealth Games have delivered more than their fair share of inspiring moments, led by Australians who have pushed their bodies to drag every last ounce of energy from themselves in the pursuit of success.

Take Rob de Castella's famous marathon victory when the Commonwealth Games were hosted by Brisbane in 1982. The streets were lined with proud Australians who cheered every step of the way in his battle with two Tanzanian runners. He later reflected on the energy provided by the fans, stating: "The Games had just captivated everyone in Brisbane; there was an incredible festive atmosphere. The energy and the cheers of the crowd was just amazing.

My parents still talk about this race.

Then there's Andrew Lloyd's inspiring final lap of the 5000-metre run in the 1990 Games. He came from midfield to chase down reigning Olympic champion John Ngugi who, with one lap to go, was as much as 50 metres in front of him.

My favourite Commonwealth Games moment came in 2006 at the end of the women's marathon. Australia's Kerryn McCann was in a nail-biting battle with Kenyan Hellen Cherono Koskei, as they ran through the streets of Melbourne. I was watching on TV at home, awe struck by the strength and courage shown by the two runners.

As they entered the MCG for the last 400 metres of the 42-kilometre race, McCann and her Kenyan opponent were running stride for stride. The crowd, who had been watching the marathon on the stadium's big screens, let out a mighty roar for the Aussie, willing her to victory. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It helped McCann to keep running, to accelerate and clinch victory.

It stands today as one of my favourite sporting moments.

That was only 12 years ago, when we celebrated effort in the pursuit of excellence. But it was the pursuit that amazed us – the hard work, the training, the discipline and sacrifice. When our athletes competed, we understood the skill, concentration and courage required in the face of more pressure than many of us will ever know. When they succeeded, we felt happy for them, and we celebrated with them. When they lost, we sympathised.

Athletes from 71 nations representing 30 per cent of the worlds population are competing at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, all striving to give their best to win gold. That's why the Commonwealth Games matter.

Sam Duncan is a lecturer in sports media and an Age columnist.

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