The British empire is still going strong in the world of sports

The biggest superstar in the Commonwealth—and the world.
The biggest superstar in the Commonwealth—and the world.
Image: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

If you’re not living in a former British colony, you probably haven’t realized that an international quadrennial sporting event has been going full tilt. But on Sunday, after 11 days, the Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow ends. The Games feature the “home nations” (the countries that make up the United Kingdom—England,  Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), Canada, India, and many more, including a string of tiny island nations such as Nauru, which has a population of 9,000. You may have seen HBO’s resident expat John Oliver’s fairly scathing take on the Games recently:

To commemorate the end, here are a few facts and highlights of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

  • The Games were originally called the British Empire Games, and first took place in 1930 in Hamilton, Canada, with 11 countries and only six sports. They have been held every four years since—except during the Second World War—and were rebranded the Commonwealth Games in 1978. This year, in Glasgow, there are 71 nations and territories and 22 sports.
  • England has dominated the Games for the first time in 28 years, winning 56 gold medals by the end of Saturday. Australia, the perennial winner, is in second place.
  • Scotland may not be a home nation for the next Games, which will be held on Australia’s Gold Coast in 2018. The country votes whether to become independent on Sept. 18. If it votes yes, it will still participate in the Games—it has committed to retaining the Queen as head of state, as 16 other countries still do, and remaining in the Commonwealth. But independence will mean that it sends its own contingent to the Olympics as it would no longer be a part of the UK’s delegation.
  • The superstars came out—well, one did. The Commonwealth Games are lacking star power by virtue of the countries competing (Americans still dominate the ranks of celebrity athletes) and the fact that there is no soccer competition. But after much equivocation and begging from the Commonwealth Games’ organizers, the megastar that is six-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt did show up to collect the only medal in sports he hasn’t got. Journalists queued for two hours to get into his press conference. He did not compete in individual events because of injuries but Bolt did win a 4×100 relay gold with the Jamaican team on Saturday.
  • The most successful country in the history of the Commonwealth Games? Nauru. Despite being 8.1 square miles, it has won 28 medals, including 10 golds. And they’ve only been competing since 1990! All their medals have come in weightlifting.
  • The sport at the Games was not generally world class, but it did offer some great stories. For example, there was Taoriba Biniati, a female boxer who had never been in a boxing ring. She represented Kiribati, 33 Pacific atolls that were once known as the Gilbert Islands and which are disappearing with climate change. Then there was Clementina Agricole, from the Seychelles, who collapsed at the last Games in Delhi and was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor. Doctors operated and she competed in Glasgow in weightlifting in her third Games.
  • And where else would you see the Queen, Prince William, and Prince Harry photobombing people?