At the Commonwealth Games, Competing for Medals and Relevance

At the Commonwealth Games, Competing for Medals and Relevance

Mr. Atkins added that he felt little emotional connection to the Commonwealth itself.

“In an identity sense, I would like to become a republic — I don’t see the need for us to be part of the Commonwealth, really, anymore,” he said.

Peter Beattie, a former premier of the state of Queensland, and the chairman of the Gold Coast Games, said that he empathized with those who had reservations about the event.

“I understand that there’s always a bit of cynicism: is this the remnants of the Empire? Look, it came from the Empire Games, but its relevance and relationship with the Empire Games is very tenuous,” he said.

Mr. Beattie believed that Brexit and its fallout had given the Commonwealth, and its Games, a unique opening to capitalize upon.

“Brexit, actually, in a converse way, has made the Commonwealth more relevant, not less,” he said. “Britain’s now looking at free trade agreements. Part of what’s happening here is a meeting of all the trade ministers.”

Of course, it is difficult to ignore that the Games are, in a way, a sort of Olympics-lite: an athletic coming together of many nations, to be sure, but with the notable absence of medal-winning mainstays like China, the United States and Russia.

But organizers, including Mr. Beattie, were quick to paint the Games as more nimble and progressive than the Olympics, and several times implied that the latter could do with some evolution.

“The Olympics are just a hard, competitive sporting event — and that’s terrific,” he said. “The Commonwealth is more than that.”

This year’s Games, for the first time, will feature an equal gender split of events. Women will compete for the same number of medals as men, a feat that organizers said had not been replicated by any other major multisport international event — including the Olympics.

Mr. Beattie said that the Games would send a message about the advancement of women that he hoped the Olympics would emulate.

Others said the Games presented athletes with a rare chance at higher competition like the Olympics and World Championships — and some athletes with perhaps the peak competition of their careers.

“I just snuck into the Commonwealth Games. It was the first major team that I made, representing Australia — they have more relaxed standards,” said Steve Moneghetti, a retired Australian runner who eventually competed in four Olympic marathons. “It’s a good steppingstone, and certainly for some athletes it will be the only multisport competition that they go to.”

It is easy to see why for certain nations these Games may be just as watchable as the Olympics — there’s a far greater chance of seeing a fellow countryman win.

“Australians, we’re quite competitive. We’ve either topped or been second in the medal tally for most Games in history. The Australian public really embrace them,” Mr. Moneghetti said. “I know this sounds quite naïve, but Australians kind of go, Commonwealth Games, Olympic Games, if you won a medal, that’s great.”

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