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The story of the British Empire & Commonwealth Games
(now known as The Commonwealth Games)

The holding of the first recorded Games between Empire athletes coincided with the celebrations in connection with the Coronation of His Majesty King George the Fifth in 1911, and was known as the 'Festival of Empire'. A large and representative Committee, with the Earl of Plymouth as Chairman, arranged at the Crystal Palace Grounds in London a series of entertainments and exhibitions pertaining to the progress and development of the British Empire.

 

 

One of the features of the program was an inter-Empire Sports meeting. Invitations were sent to Australia, Canada and South Africa, to compete with the athletes of Great Britain to decide Empire supremacy. Lord Desborough and Mr William Henry were mainly responsible for this section of the Festival.

The program consisted of track and field athletics, boxing, wrestling and swimming events, and a trophy in the form of a silver cup, 2ft 6in high and weighing 340oz, the gift of Lord Lonsdale, was presented to the winning country, which was Canada. During the second British Empire Games at London in 1934 this handsome trophy was presented to the British Empire Games Federation. It was melted down and a principal cup of smaller dimensions was made to be retained by the Federation in perpetuity. Replicas were also made from the original and were presented to each of the constituent countries forming the British Empire Games movement.

 

The honour of having conceived a scheme for a British Empire Sports Festival belongs to an Englishman, J Astley Cooper, who in August 1891, in the magazine Greater Britain, outlined a plan for what he described as a 'Pan-Britannic Festival'. This proposal attracted a great deal of attention throughout Great Britain and the colonies, and was elaborated by Mr Cooper in a lengthy letter to the London Times of October 30, 1891, and in the Nineteenth Century magazine of September 1892. In Australia the idea was taken up by B J Parkinson in Victoria and by Richard Coombes, the grand old man of Australian athletics, and who for 35 years was President of the Amateur Athletic Union of Australia, in New South Wales.

In his letter to The Times, Mr Cooper said: "I have taken into consideration the fact that the future relationship of the various portions of the Empire rests chiefly in the hands of the young men of the Empire - of young Britain, young Australia, young South Africa, young Canada - and that Imperial Athletic contests would be very attractive to most Britishers, whether settled in the United Kingdom or resident beyond the seas. I also believe that such a contest between selected representatives of the English-speaking races could command more general attention and be more popular than any other contest which could be arranged."

No further development took place until 1928, when the Olympic Games were in progress in Amsterdam. The splendid feelings of friendliness between the Empire athletes at that Olympiad strengthened the ideas for the revival of Empire meetings.

In view of Canada's victory in 1911, it was appropriate that it should have been through the initiative of a Canadian - M M Robinson - that the British Empire Games took definite shape, and were revived at Hamilton, Canada in 1930. Support was forthcoming from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, with the result that strong teams were sent to Canada. Teams also came from Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, British Guiana, Newfoundland and South Africa. The events at this meeting comprised track and field athletics, swimming, rowing, boxing and wrestling, and lawn bowls. While no points were allotted, it was fitting that Great Britain filled the premier position.

The success of the first British Empire Games at Hamilton in 1930 provided full proof of the existence of the spirit of comradeship and cooperation between members of the British nation and the world over, and will go down in the history of British sport as the achievement of all that is best in the sporting traditions of the British race. During these Games, at a council of representatives of Great Britain and the Dominions and Colonies, it was decided that similar meetings should be held every four years in between the Olympic Games, and that a British Empire Games Federation should be formed.

Accordingly, when teams throughout the Empire were gathered together at the Tenth Olympiad at Los Angeles in 1932, the formation of the British Empire Games Federation was further discussed and the Federation was subsequently constituted. In 1952 the Federation was retitled " British Empire and Commonwealth Games Federation". In Jamaica 1966 it became the "British Commonwealth Games Federation" and in 1974 at Christchurch the title was again changed to the "Commonwealth Games Federation".

In general construction, the Commonwealth Games are designed on the Olympic model, not in competition, but entirely complementary to the older series of Games, and, organised as they are between the Olympic celebrations, the experience gained should be of a real help to the Commonwealth athletes when facing the sterner trial of the great international meetings. The Commonwealth champions of today may well be the Olympic challengers of tomorrow.

 
 

 

Australian Commonwealth Games Association (ACGA)
PO Box 49, Carlton South VIC 3053

Tel: +(61 3) 9654 4755   Fax: +(61 3) 9654 7311
Email: acga@ausport.gov.au
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