The Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games
di mrpbps [CC-BY-2.0 (], attraverso Wikimedia Commons

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The Commonwealth Games

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"What on Earth is this?” demanded my husband, turning on the TV last Saturday to the sight of hundreds of plump, tartan-clad dancers and an inflatable dinosaur frolicking around a sports stadium. Being Italian he had never come across the Commonwealth Games, a huge, multi-sport event held every four years by the countries which were once part of the British Empire.

Neither had he heard of some of the countries taking part – St Kitts and Nevis, Kiribati, Nauru – I would struggle to point them out on a map. Many of the nations that make up the Commonwealth have less inhabitants than the average city – Nauru has a population of just 14,000, St Helena, a minute speck of land in the middle of the Atlantic, has less than four-and-a-half thousand. Though they may pale into insignificance next to the Olympics, for some of these tiny nations the Commonwealth Games is the only chance they get to compete on an international stage. Some games which are popular in Commonwealth countries are also not featured at the Olympics, so this is where netball, squash and lawn bowls champions come into their own and get a chance to show what they're made of. Bigger nations have an obvious advantage, and as usual Australia leads the medals table, but Singapore have wiped the floor with the opposition in the table tennis, and there was gold for Samoa and Papua New Guinea in the weightlifting.

Like the Olympics, the Games are hosted by a different city each time.  Glasgow won the bid for the 2014 games, hence the Tam o' Shanters and blow-up Loch Ness monster at Saturday's opening ceremony. As is often the case with such large sporting events that require new infrastructure, the impact and legacy of the games on local communities has been the subject of heated debate. Some argue that hosting the games will help revitalise the Glaswegian economy and create jobs, while others bemoan the disruption and in some cases destruction of long-established community resources to make way for the new sports facilities. Maybe Scotland's impressive haul of medals in cycling, swimming, lawn bowls and judo will help win over the critics. 


bemoan = lament
bid = competition to become the host of an event
blow-up = item made from plastic or rubber and filled with air
clad = wearing, dressed in
come across = discover, encounter
come into their own = become confident, fulfilled
frolicking = dancing playfully
Glaswegian = from/of Glasgow
haul = capture of a large quantity of something
heated debate = a fervent discussion
hence = therefore
inflatable = item made from plastic or rubber and filled with air
make up = constitute
make way for = create space for
minute = minuscule
neither = not either, no more – indicates a second negative fact
pale into insignificance = seem totally unimportant compared with something else
plump = a bit fat
point them out = indicate
show what they're made of = create a favourable impression
speck = tiny spot, granule
struggle = have difficulty
Tam o' Shanter = traditional Scottish hat
tartan = traditional Scottish cloth featuring a grid of coloured lines
tiny= very small
What on Earth...? = exclamation of disbelief
win over = convince someone
wipe the floor with the opposition = win convincingly