x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Commonwealth Games have multicultural feel

Recent additions Cameroon, Mozambique and Rwanda are the three most obvious examples of that in New Delhi.

Cameroon’s Petit David Minkoumba attempts a lift during the men’s 77kg weightlifting clean and jerk at the Commonwealth Games.
Cameroon’s Petit David Minkoumba attempts a lift during the men’s 77kg weightlifting clean and jerk at the Commonwealth Games.

Not every country at the Commonwealth Games is a clear choice for inclusion at the event, and recent additions Cameroon, Mozambique and Rwanda are the three most obvious examples of that in New Delhi. 

But they are here, competing at the Olympic-style games along with England, Australia, Canada and dozens of other countries and territories from every inhabited continent on the planet.

"It's strange that we are part of it. But remember, we are surrounded by Commonwealth nations, that's why we became Commonwealth," Natarcia Remane, the Mozambique chef de mission, said with a smile. "We had to become one." Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony that gained independence in 1975. It joined the Commonwealth in 1996, in part to foster closer ties with its Anglophone neighbours and also to broaden its international profile.

Cameroon joined the community shortly after that, but it has a history of closer ties to Britain. A portion of the west African nation was run by the British following the expulsion of German rule after the First World War. The rest of the country was under French rule until the early 1960s, when they both gained independence and united into one country. "We feel integrated," Yakana Boade Lucien, the Cameroon team doctor, said of the French and English factions that make up the country. "The two official languages are French and English. When you go to school, you are obliged to speak both."

Rwanda was also under German occupation until the end of the First World War. Control was then given over to Belgium by the League of Nations and the country became independent in 1962. Rwanda, whose people speak the local Bantu language as well as French and English, joined the Commonwealth in 2009. The varied backgrounds and languages spoken in those countries does not seem to mean anything to athletes competing in New Delhi, however.

"Because there's less of an association with the British, when you're out here you don't even consider the empire," Emma Batten, the Welsh field hockey player, said. "You don't notice [different languages] at all. It's not strange to me at all." Although English has been the predominant language since the first Commonwealth Games - then known as the British Empire Games - in 1930, many of the 71 countries and territories at the 2010 event speak a variety of languages. That makes it even easier to forget that the Games were originally for British subjects.

"There's lots of different countries," Emily Quarton, the Canadian weightlifter, said. "People here [in India] don't necessarily speak English as a first language." But the lack of English can create a gulf when such a majority of the participants at the Commonwealth Games use it as a common language. "It was only a few years ago that we started to feel the need to speak English," Remane said of Mozambique. "Some of our athletes and coaches still don't speak English, so it's hard to feel a part of it [the Commonwealth]."

However, Monica Bernardo, the Mozambique swimmer, said competing at the Games is good for both her career and her geography. "It doesn't feel weird, but it's weird that there are a lot of other countries we never heard about," Bernardo said. "It's cool that we're affiliated with all these other countries. It'll help us get experience."