Why do Europhiles hate the Commonwealth Games?

Insecurity and post-imperial guilt are the main drivers behind criticisms of the Commonwealth. For Europhiles, having a friendly non-EU celebration on our screens with a collection of happy, voluntarily participating nations at ease with each other is deeply threatening

Katarina Johnson-Thompson raising the flag
Tom Cannon
On 2 August 2014 07:15

The friendly games got off to a flying start, and haven't looked back. The sport has been excellent and Glasgow has impressed the world. The opening ceremony was certainly a poignant reminder of our shared Commonwealth ties and values and this weekend’s closing ceremony is unlikely to disappoint.

The UNICEF Children of the Commonwealth fund was an inspiring demonstration of Commonwealth kinship, and raised an impressive £3.5 million. The Queen’s speech was also a clear call to action, asking the youth of the Commonwealth to embrace sport and to work towards an improved and stronger Commonwealth family.

Nevertheless, despite the positive nature of the Commonwealth Games already critics have begun to emerge, many of them known Europhiles.

In City AM Thomas Baines of Chatham House chose to praise the EU and criticised the Commonwealth as a historical anachronism. While in The Times, long term ally of Tony Blair, Philip Collins took it upon himself to declare that the Commonwealth should be ended forthwith.

Even the Independent’s sports section described the Commonwealth games as an “embarrassment” of empire, with the games being labelled as a “smokescreen of sub-par sport” for modern imperialism. This negative theme was continued by the think tank Business for New Europe who in a recent tweet described the Commonwealth as “historical nostalgia”, while praising the EU.

Yet the worst possible comment so far has come from the Mirror’s Kevin O’Sulivan who, in an appalling diatribe of around 500 words, chose to attack the Commonwealth, the BBC, Susan Boyle and the “lecturing luvvies guilt-tripping us about starving children”.

Of course, I am not in any conceivable way defending the human rights abuses that exist in many Commonwealth countries. But it is clear that these anti-Commonwealth arguments are not in fact solely focused on human rights either. They are instead a well-orchestrated campaign that is attempting to undermine the daily show of unity and passion on our television screens.

Insecurity is the main driving force behind these criticisms of the Commonwealth. For those of a pro-Brussels persuasion having a friendly non-EU celebration on our screens with a collection of happy, voluntarily participating nations at ease with each other is not something that should be encouraged. The Commonwealth in their eyes is a relic of a dark imperialist past and should be shunned whenever possible.

The problem however is this view although loud is totally erroneous. The level of historical inaccuracy when individuals criticise the Commonwealth as a historical force is breathtaking. The Commonwealth has always in its own way attempted to spread liberal values, the rule of law, and democracy to the sovereign states that make up its membership.

Furthermore, let’s not forget it was the nations of the now Commonwealth that stood up against the tyrants of Europe and stood gallantly against Communism during the Cold War: an area of history that has only recently become clearer thanks to the release of historical documents.

In effect, the basis of democracy in Europe was in part built on the blood of Commonwealth and Empire troops. From the Second World War to the Malayan Emergency the Empire and the emerging Commonwealth did its bit for the modern world and it can continue to do so in the 21st Century.

Of course there are problems in modern Commonwealth nations. But this is not strictly a product of the Commonwealth. Much as modern European fascism, anti-Semitism and homophobia are not products of the EU. Is it not hypocritical to freely attribute bigotry to the institution of the Commonwealth yet indirectly assert that the EU institutions are by default holier-than-thou?

The idea that the Commonwealth should be disbanded because it contains homophobes is absurd. If that is the way to proceed then we should probably begin to disband many of the world’s global organisations. Instead, global bodies can help to fight against such vile prejudice. Prejudice unfortunately would not end with the dissolution of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth therefore has been and can be an enormous force for good. In economic terms it is, or will be, more relevant than the EU. It contains a vibrant mixture of English speaking economies and among many other things has population demographics that will shape the world’s economic future.

In social terms, it can advance liberal values in the sovereign states that make up its membership and encourage movement in the right direction.

Moreover, it is globally popular now, with the informal associations between its people strengthening and developing the modern commonwealth.

Lord Howell in his latest book argues this point suggesting that the nongovernmental networks of the Commonwealth run through every level of society. Indeed, although not formally part of the Commonwealth, stunning scenes were recently seen in Hong Kong, with Chris Patton being greeted by old colonial flags and pleas for help against the attack on Hongkongers' civil liberties.

This unreported protest is a clear example of how many of the present generation view British and wider Commonwealth associations. The Hongkongers at the protest view the modern Commonwealth as a positive force for the future not a relic of the past.

The games therefore represent a modern vision of the Commonwealth, a Commonwealth that promotes equality, inclusion and acceptance.

The sport must remain the main focus, and flippant and cynically motivated critics of the Commonwealth during the games should be confronted at every turn, particularly if people attempt to discredit the Commonwealth because of pro-EU leanings.

Of course it was to some extent expected; the Commonwealth is certainly a form of Kryptonite to Europhiles and the games make the Commonwealth all the more real. It does have its faults but these can be remedied, and the Commonwealth games, like the Olympics, can positively promote social issues through sport in a way that traditional politics cannot.

Tom Cannon is a freelance contributor to The Commentator. He tweets @TomCannon1

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