Can the Commonwealth Games match the Olympics for scandal and shoddy behavior? Well, of course they bloody can’t, but given that the purpose of the tournament is to show that the nations Britain found, conquered and colonised are now all really great mates, there actually oughtn’t to be any sort of shenanigans whatsoever. And has this been the case? Absolutely, positively not.
The Welsh don’t win much (harsh, yes, but true) so there was much singing in the Valleys when three weightlifters from the principality jerked and snatched their way to victory in Auckland ’90. But the celebrations were short-lived; drug tests proving that the boyos all had slight traces of urine in their anabolic steroids. Banished from the Games, the trio’s misery was compounded by the fact they then had to return to Wales. Still, at least they shouldn’t have had any trouble carrying their luggage.
Scotch On The Rocks
Just because it hasn’t been beset by superpower strife doesn’t mean the Commonwealth Games hasn’t experienced boycotts. Angered by the Thatcher government’s refusal to stop trading gold with South Africa, the vast majority of African countries chose to give Edinburgh ’86 a miss. That there was a whiff of hypocrisy about the whole affair (India, not the most caucasian of countries, was still trading massive quantities of bullion with the Botha government) couldn’t disguise the fact that most of the black faces at the Scottish Games were metaphorical.
The problems created by the boycott were exacerbated by the small matter of the event being bankrolled by a complete crook. As the CEO of Mirror Group Newspapers, Robert Maxwell had already looted millions from workers’ pension funds, and he emerged from the Edinburgh Games pretty flush – quite incredible given the event’s losses were estimated to be in the millions. Maxwell even went on Wogan to personally petition for donations. Fortunately, the story has a happy ending, with Maxwell falling from his yacht and drowning just five short years later.
A Wealth Of Nations
Maria Mutola is one of the true legends of modern athletics. In addition to numerous World and Olympic titles, the big girl from Mozambique won Commonwealth Games 800m gold in both 1998 and 2002. Which is all well and good, except that Mozambique (a former Portuguese colony) isn’t part of the Commonwealth. That the country was cleared to compete in the games in 1994 is every bit as bizarre as the fact that Cambodia also applied for admittance. And these aren’t the only examples of the Games’ curious grasp of nationality. In Manchester, British world squash champion Peter Nicol competed for England rather than his native Scotland. And then there’s the story of boxer Wayne ‘The Pocket Rocket’ McCullough. When the Belfast boy scooped gold in Auckland, the moment went down in Games history as the audience took it upon themselves to sing the Ulster anthem when the tape recording broke down. And how did McCullough respond to such a moving gesture? By buggering off south of the border to represent the Irish Republic at the Barcelona Olympics.
There was a time in the dim and distant past when English sporting success was even less common that it’s been this summer. The ’80s and ‘90s were thin times indeed, and it’s this that might explain why, at the 1990 Auckland event, it was decided to swamp the old Games stalwart of wrestling for judo, a sport at which we’d enjoyed conspicuous success. The result? England won all the men’s categories and most of the women’s. Fortunately, Games organisers quickly saw the error of their ways, reinstating wrestling in time for Victoria ’94.
Just Not Cricket
Given that it’s a sport exclusively played by Commonwealth nations, it’s extraordinary to think cricket didn’t make its games debut until 1998. The competition itself was an undistinguished affair notable more for England’s refusal to send a team than for South Africa’s unconvincing defeat of Australia in the final. Since the contest occurred on Asian soil, you might have thought reigning world champions Pakistan would have been in with a pretty decent shout, but they were handicapped by the absence of legendary all-rounder and skipper Wasim Akram and leading batsman Salim Malik. And why was it they were deprived the services of this dynamic duo? Why, because the pair were being investigated over alleged match-fixing! Wasim was of course cleared. Salim Malik, however, received a lifetime ban from the game he’d made seem so simple.