Commonwealth Games 2010 – What is it about the Commonwealth?

Posted by Angélique Vassout • Thursday, June 24. 2010 • Category: In Depth
Nowadays, in India’s capital New Delhi everybody seems to be talking about the Commonwealth Games. New metro lines, construction of roads and flyovers, stadiums being renovated and many other buildings appearing out of nowhere, the whole of Delhi is changing under the impulsion of the Games. And that's only the beginning, as the Games start only in October. The vision of the Commonwealth Games is becoming increasingly visible all over Delhi – but what exactly is the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth of Nations is an intergovernmental organisation of 54 member states on all the continents, bringing together about 30% of the world's population, which means around two billion people of diverse cultures and faiths.

Historical Map of the British Empire in 1897

It is a legacy of the British colonial empire, as most of the member countries are former colonies or dominions. The idea of a “Commonwealth of Nations” emerged towards the end of the 19th century, when former colonies became independent and were transformed into dominions. The “British Commonwealth of Nations” was established at the 1926 Imperial Conference, where the Balfour Report defined the Dominions as “autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to one another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations”. This constitutional status was incorporated in the British Law in 1931 through the “Statute of Westminster”.

However, India’s Independence became a turning point that lead to the creation of the “modern Commonwealth” and the end of the British Empire. Far from becoming a dying organisation inherited from bygone days, the Commonwealth has proven to be rather dynamic. Despite the fact that the most famous former British colony, the United States, is missing (because it became independent long time before the creation of the Commonwealth) and that others, like Ireland, have left, it has significantly expanded in the second half of the 20th century, now including countries like Mozambique (1995) and Rwanda (2009) that were not linked to the British Empire. And the potential for future extension of the “Commonwealth Family” is still wide, as other applicants are already waiting to join the organisation, which benefits the United Kingdom's prestige and the English language's supremacy in our global world.

Commonwealth of Nations Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma

The Commonwealth Secretariat is the main intergovernmental agency of the Commonwealth. Based in London, it is headed by the Secretary General who is in charge of representing the organisation publicly. Kamalesh Sharma, from India (which accounts for more than half of the Commonwealth population), was elected in 2008 by Commonwealth Heads of Government as the fifth Secretary General for four years and is assisted by a Ugandan and a Jamaican Deputy Secretary-General. Coincidentally, Secretary General Sharma is an alumnus of the Modern School and the St. Stephen's College both located in the host city of the next Commonwealth Games: New Delhi.

The Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II, is the Head of the Commonwealth since 1952, acting as the symbol of the free association of independent countries. However, this is mainly an honorific position and her heir will not automatically become Head of the Commonwealth. The Queen clarified her position regarding the modern Commonwealth she is heading: “The Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the empires of the past. It is an entirely new conception built on the highest qualities of the spirit of man: friendship, loyalty, and the desire for freedom and peace.”

Map of the Commonwealth of Nations Member States

The particular relationship between the Commonwealth countries is shown in the exchange of High Commissioners, representing the Heads of Government, instead of Ambassadors. Every two years, these Commonwealth Heads of Government meet, each time in a different country. Important declarations can be released after these meetings, as the 1971 Singapore Declaration and its 14 points about the principles of world peace, liberty, human rights, equality and fair trade, or the 1991 Harare Declaration, which deals with principles, values and membership criteria of the Commonwealth.

These values are essential to be a member and violations of these values can lead to a suspension of the country, which would be decided by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. Still formally remaining a member, the country would then not be authorised to be a part of the Commonwealth meetings, sport events and the technical assistance programme – except for the re-establishing democracy's programme. Thus, Fiji, Pakistan and Zimbabwe have been suspended in the last ten years because of “serious and persistent violations” of the Harare Declaration, but only Fiji continues to be suspended currently. Zimbabwe decided to leave the organisation, as members are not linked by any treaty and can choose at any time to leave the organisation. Also, South Africa was sidelined as long as the Apartheid was effective in the country. These highly political decisions often provoke tensions among member countries.

Beside the political organisation, other organisms have been created according the cultural and economic connections that link these countries, such as the Commonwealth Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation, the Commonwealth Business Council or the Commonwealth Youth Programme. In analogy, the Commonwealth Games are the main sports event that gathers the “Commonwealth Family”.

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Please continue to visit our blog to learn more about the Commonwealth Games 2010 in New Delhi as well as about opportunities to participate in activities during the Games.

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  1. Its the 'British' commonwealth that is implied.
    Isn't it high time we call it something else and remove the imperial overtones.
    We must understand that it was the British mindset of the 1880s not wanting to let go of 'its' colonies that prompted the name and we could well do without it in todays world.
  2. Complex Post. This record helped me in my college assignment. Thnaks Alot

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