RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: The ‘Friendly Games’ have NOT had their day… under serious threat, they charmed their way back to life in Birmingham – now countries are lining up to host
- Despite being under threat, the Commonwealth Games are here to stay
- Team England completed a record breaking haul with 176 total medals
- The diversity of the games continue to be an undeniable strength
In the end, after all the splashing and sprinting, flipping and lifting, there was badminton. On the 11th day of sport — all shades of it, from the brilliant to the peculiar — the last blow was a flicked forehand for doubles gold at 2.30pm by Malaysia‘s Pearly Tan.
It was, to all bar the most curmudgeonly, an excellent Commonwealth Games. To take them for what they are means an enjoyment of sport for sport’s sake, whether it is found in Ghanaian doormen, or the fall and rise again of giants like Adam Peaty.
Is any sporting canvas so broad as one that features both Dalton Tagelagi, the head of government from the Pacific island of Niue, and Laura Kenny, the British winner of everything cycling has to offer? Tagelagi lost all six of his games of lawn bowls and Kenny ended a challenging campaign with a 28th major gold, but for long periods he seemed far happier than her.
Niue Premier Dalton Tagelagi represented his country in lawn bowls at the games
If we are to risk getting a little sickly about it, perhaps that is the purpose of what they call the Friendly Games, an entity under serious threat in the sporting calendar but which has charmed its way back to life this fortnight.
Indeed, against those lingering questions around their modern-day relevance, it is possible the 22nd edition of the Games was their most important.
The Games were loaded with them. There were doubts and redemptions for Kenny and Peaty, who were so shocked by the rarity of defeat that they pondered retirement before gold medals soothed their aches.
In Peaty’s case, he suffered a first loss in eight years in the 100metres breaststroke, which triggered a crisis before he won the 50m.
On the team front, the first Commonwealth title for England’s women’s hockey team was special, and one of the finest images of all was Eilish McColgan winning the 10,000m and hugging mother Liz, who won the second of her titles in the same event 32 years earlier.
A hat tip, too, to heavyweight boxer Duken Tutakitoa-Williams, who won Niue’s first-Games medal, from a population of just 1,600. The overtime winner from local lad Myles Hesson in the 3×3 basketball split a few eardrums as well.
England women’s hockey team won gold after defeating Australia in the final
This lends itself to the other half of the Games. While we can query the quality of some of the sport, part of the joy comes from those in the shallow end. It was on clear display at the cycling time trial, where the great Geraint Thomas shared a road with Chris Symonds, a 48-year-old riding for Ghana and whose day job for two decades has been working as a door keeper at the House of Commons.
A moment after Symonds passed through, we chatted with Jim Horton, who is head of immigration in the Falklands after leaving Walsall. His whole bike cost less than Thomas’s wheels. The Games were full of tales like that and were richer for it.
More than 1.5million tickets were sold, with more than 90 per cent occupancy at most venues. A viewpoint shared with Sportsmail by one of Britain’s most famous sporting figures is that ‘thousands of people in Britain would turn up watch a potato’, but it is indisputable that the atmosphere fizzed in and around many of the stadiums.
After the Covid-hit Olympics, it was tremendous to have supporters back at one of these multi-sport festivals.
Crowds flocked to the closing ceremony at the Alexander Stadium on Monday
Quite simply, there were not enough of them. The vibe of the Games was great, but to sell this event long-term they need recognisable faces on posters.
While Elaine Thompson-Herah, the five-time Olympic sprint champion from Jamaica, competed (and cleaned up), it was notable that the equally great Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce did not, despite being in Birmingham to train. With Tom Daley and Max Whitlock giving it a swerve and Dina Asher-Smith injured, the Games felt light on star quality.
English swimmer Tom Dean won seven silvers and one gold, becoming the nation’s most successful athlete at a single Commonwealth Games. The youngest of the home gymnasts, Jake Jarman, won four golds — a fine return for a guy introduced to the sport after being spotted swinging on monkey bars as a kid.
Tom Dean became England’s most successful athlete at a single Commonwealth Games
The decision of cycling chiefs to allow a bronze medal race between England and Scotland in the women’s tandem B sprint, only to then inform them no medal was on offer because the field included only four teams. English para-cyclist Sophie Unwin and her pilot Georgia Holt protested by standing behind the podium.
Matt Walls’s horrific crash into the crowd at the velodrome.
The Games will run in Victoria in 2026, but what then? It has been a concerning question, but Games chief executive Katie Sadleir told Sportsmail yesterday that four nations have expressed an interest for 2030 after the appeal of the past fortnight.