Commentary

'CWG much stronger now because of Delhi 2010'

Updated: April 1, 2018, 9:51 AM ET
By Susan Ninan in Gold Coast

Quinn Rooney/Getty Images'I think the Commonwealth has a bright future in reconnecting with India which is such a powerful sport-loving nation'

David Grevemberg talks with the passion of an athlete in a hurry. Of course, it helps that he once played a sport - wrestling - and as current CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation, he's willing to push the boundaries. In a chat with ESPN, Grevemberg took questions with practiced ease and talked about the many labels that the Commonwealth Games lives with and yet finding ways to be relevant.

To its critics, the CWG evokes an era - the British Empire, or an Anglo-centric world - whose time has gone. What would you say to them?

The Commonwealth is represented by every third person in the world - over 2.6 billion citizens, comprising 53 countries across every continent and every region of the world. Around 1.6 billion of the Commonwealth's population is under the age of 29. Two-thirds of the world's small states and island states are in the Commonwealth.

While its historical reference is closely linked to the span of the British Empire and colonialism, the Commonwealth's shared history is also represented by stories pursuing struggles for freedom and fairness and solidarity to uphold universal principles and ideals, whether that be joining forces in times of conflict and war, fighting human rights atrocities such as apartheid, or taking collective positions and actions on climate change and other current issues impacting peace, sustainability and prosperity.

Where sport fits in to the equation is in relation to its value and in what it can achieve for both individuals and communities. The modern Commonwealth is more relevant today than ever before - as both a movement for societal change and as a force for good.

While there is no doubt that the Games serves as an excellent platform for young and emerging athletes, do you think it serves as an accurate barometer for a country's sporting prowess? For example, India won 101 medals at the 2010 Games and 64 medals at the Glasgow Games and finished with two medals in Rio.

Yes, it does. Innately, there are some sports at which the Commonwealth nations excel or dominate globally. There are some sports - because of the geographical or historical nature of the sport, and those countries' history practicing and competing in those sports - in which the Commonwealth leads the way.

The Commonwealth has a third of the world's population, yet 60% of the medals won at the IAAF Beijing World Championships were won by Commonwealth athletes. If you look at India's performance in sports such as shooting, wrestling or hockey at the Commonwealth Games, the country's performances are consistent with their performances at other competitions. If you look at the countries that comprise the United Kingdom, they achieve success at the Commonwealth Games and they achieve similar success at other sports events.

Kenya, Jamaica, Australia and Canada achieve greatness in the Commonwealth Games Athletics Programme, and they achieve similar greatness in other athletics competitions. There is a clear consistency between countries' success at the Commonwealth Games and at other major sporting events.

Ravi Choudhary/Hindustan Times via Getty ImagesShooting will not be a part of the 2022 Games in Birmingham

Despite a great legacy in the Games, shooting has been dropped from the 2022 edition by hosts Birmingham. What kind of precedent do you think this will set?

Shooting has always been an optional sport. In this case, CWG England, Birmingham council and UK government as part of their bid decided not to select shooting in accordance with the constitution. We have interest from taekwondo, archery, shooting and cricket to be on the 2022 program, not just shooting. So it's really up to the hosts to pick their preference.

I think it's up to every sport to ensure their relevance so every sport should do their homework to be compelling from a broadcasting, ticketing and community engagement point of view across the Commonwealth.

PA ImagesDavid Grevemberg believes there is potential for cricket to thrive in the Commonwealth Games

Cricket has only featured in one edition of the Games so far, do you see it making a comeback in the immediate future?

Cricket is a great Commonwealth sport. It is currently listed as an Optional Sport on the Commonwealth Games Sports Programme (approved at the CGF General Assembly in September 2015).

If you look at the 2022 Commonwealth Games to be held in Birmingham, England, the Birmingham Bid Committee looked closely into men's and women's cricket given the proximity of Edgbaston Cricket Ground and the popularity of the Twenty20 format in the West Midlands and the game's popularity throughout the Commonwealth. However, any further consideration to additions to the CGF's Commonwealth Games Sport Programme would first require consideration by Birmingham 2022 and its partners. That is where we stand at present.

There's a lot of focus on gender parity so when nations are looking to host the Games they are looking at gender parity in team sports. I think the ICC is continuing to develop itself and the T20 program making cricket more accessible and viable in terms of working in a compressed format. I think there's great potential for cricket in a multi-sport setting whether it's the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics.

What kind of impact did the scams and taint of Delhi 2010 have on the overall Commonwealth movement?

It challenged the entire movement. It challenged India, Indian sport and the Commonwealth movement. I think it's also important to say that we're judged not by how we were paralyzed by those challenges but responded to them. I think we're much stronger now because of Delhi 2010.

It was a watershed moment. So much infrastructure was required to be built within such a short period. Any city would have struggled. And it came with huge risks, not only of delivery but also human rights and safety risks, and challenges around the integrity of organizing committee. So we have all have evolved in our approach and thinking as a result of Delhi 2010. I'd like to think that Indian sport is stronger because of Delhi 2010.

On the other hand, look at the amazing story of one of my favourite movies, and this might surprise you: Dangal. It's a 2010 Commonwealth Games legacy story which is absolutely brilliant. I'm an ex-wrestler so I'm a bit partial you may say. The great question brought forward by Delhi was that the Commonwealth needs to have a clear narrative on why its relevant and why its relevant today. I think the Commonwealth has a bright future in reconnecting with India which is such a powerful sport-loving nation. I think both have a complex shared history and ideals and we are looking forward to engaging and hopefully coming back to India.

Ben Booth/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The other reality is that fewer countries now want to host the Games due to the financial burden. For instance, for this edition, Gold Coast and Hambantota were the only two bidders and originally Durban was the sole bidder for 2022. How is the federation coping with this challenge?

'Transformation 2022' addresses this exact point. We have now created a new Games delivery model which has the federation taking on more responsibility for the hosting of the Games, 80:20, and we are also now delivering commercial programs through the organising committee. Before we would just allow the Games to happen. Now we are actually supporting it, working hand in hand and taking on some of these risks of delivering to make it more efficient and effective and also ensuring that it's more affordable and appealing by creating a more entertaining format.

How satisfied are you with preparations in Gold Coast?

I think it's excellent. We're proud of the work done to uphold human rights and sustainability initiatives in terms of ethical sourcing of materials and some of the big issues that the Commonwealth has been labelled with for so long and its history in colonialism are being addressed here, like in Glasgow.

We're doing some amazing work on tangible reconciliation programming for indigenous people not only in Gold Coast but all indigenous people across the Commonwealth, bringing representatives for a conversation on indigenous right to sport, whether it's the legacy of sectarianism, slavery or some of the broader initiatives.

So it has really transformed in the last three years. A new vision is in place, and this is something that came as a result of the work we did in Glasgow where we raised 6.5 million pounds with UNICEF for children across the Commonwealth that has now been used by over 40 countries and impacted lives of 11.6 million children. So we've done some really cool work.

Gold Coast will also mark the first time there has been an equal number of medal events for men and women, with 133 medals at stake for both (men and women); it will be the first time the sports of rugby sevens, swimming and cycling have included over 50% female technical officials; and it will be the first time there has been a Women's Coaching Internship Programme, offering 20 aspiring female coaches from across the Commonwealth the chance to be mentored by the leading national coaches across the Commonwealth. It truly will be a Games of firsts, and that is just one example of why we are increasingly relevant.

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