On National Sporting Heritage Day we look back over 90 years of the Commonwealth Games and ten things that have changed from the first Commonwealth Games in 1930 in Hamilton, Canada to the modern Games of today.
Just as today’s world would be almost unrecognisable to the pre-World War II, pre-moon landing, pre-internet generation of competitors at Hamilton 1930, so would today’s sporting scene be equally alien with a 90 year jump in technology, rule changes and inclusion.
Competitors in 1930 lined up for the British Empire Games and the name has gone through several revisions to become the Commonwealth Games:
1930 to 1950 – British Empire Games
1954 to 1966 – British Empire and Commonwealth Games
1970 to 1974 – British Commonwealth Games
1978 onwards – Commonwealth Games
The first Games in Hamilton saw 400 competitors from 11 nations compete in just six sports: Aquatics, Athletics, Boxing, Lawn Bowls, Rowing and Wrestling. The most recent Games held in Gold Coast, Australia in 2018 saw 4,426 athletes from 71 nations and territories compete in 18 sports.
In 1930 the only sport open to women was Aquatics with five Swimming and two Diving events on offer. Athletics events were added in 1934 (with nine events to the men’s 21) with other sports and events gradually added each Games. Gold Coast 2018 was the first Games to have equal medal events for men and women while Birmingham 2022 will actually have more medal events for women, with the introduction of Women’s T20 Cricket.
Competitors at Hamilton 1930, just as today competed for their country, but beyond the Rowing teams and relay events, the 1930 Games were a strictly individual affair. Traditional team sports such as Hockey, Netball, Cricket and Rugby 7s were first introduced in 1998.
At the time of the first Commonwealth Games the use of starting block in Athletics was seen as cheating. The IAAF only sanctioned starting blocks for use in competition in 1937, before which they were seen as an unfair use of technology. Competitors would instead carry a trowel to dig themselves two divots to start from. With the interruption to the Games caused by World War II, the first Games to see use of starting blocks was Auckland 1950.
Now an integral part of the Games, the Queen’s Baton Relay was first introduced in 1958 when 664 runners carried the Baton from London to Cardiff. This relay, conveying the Queen’s message, has grown to include all nations and territories of the Commonwealth on its journey to the Opening Ceremony of each Games. Kuala Lumpur 1998 was the first Queen’s Baton Relay to travel outside the host nation, with Melbourne 2006 the first to visit every nation and territory competing in the Games.
From no Para-Sports events in 1930, the Commonwealth Games is now the only major multi-sport Games to fully integrate Para-Sport events into the programme. As a precursor, the Commonwealth Paraplegic Games, held in the country hosting the Commonwealth Games for able-bodied athletes, was held from 1962 to 1974. These Games were mainly for athletes with spinal injuries or polio and were an important step in the Paralympic sport movement. The Victoria 1994 Games saw a small number of exhibition events alongside the main programme but the 2002 Games in Manchester saw for the first time at any multi-sport event in the world, a limited number of full medal events for elite athletes with a disability, in a fully inclusive sports programme. This has continued ever since with the number of events growing substantially and Gold Coast 2018 hosting the largest Para-Sport programme in the history of the Games with 38 disciplines across seven sports.
Medal presentations at the 1930 Games looked a little different to today as competitors received their medals in presentation boxes. It wasn’t until Perth 1962 that medals with a neck chain were introduced.
The first Commonwealth Games to have an official mascot was Edmonton 1978 as the Canadians introduced Keyano the Grizzly Bear to the world. Attempts had been made eight years earlier to create one for Edinburgh 1970 following the success of the 1966 World Cup Willie mascot, and drawings were produced for a kilted haggis character with the working name of Wee Mannie. Plans were dropped for 1970, but in later years Scottish Games mascots Mac the Scottie Dog in 1986 and Glasgow 2014’s Clyde, now Team Scotland’s official mascot, proved a hit with the public. In fact Clyde, designed by schoolgirl Beth Johnson, created headlines by selling out during the Games with around 50,000 of the cuddly toys sold.
All Swimming competitors in the 1930 Games would have worn full body swimsuits. It wasn’t until 1935 that topless swimsuits for men were worn for the first time during an official competition.
The Butterfly did not exist as a stroke at the 1930 Games. In 1934 David Armbruster refined a method to bring the arms forward over water in breaststroke. While this “butterfly” technique was difficult, it brought a great improvement in speed. In 1935, Jack Sieg, a swimmer, developed a technique involving swimming on his side and beating his legs in unison similar to a fish tail, and modified the technique afterward to swim it face down. Armbruster and Sieg combined these techniques into a variant of the Breaststroke called Butterfly. By 1938, almost every Breaststroke swimmer was using this Butterfly style, yet this stroke was considered a variant of the Breaststroke until 1952, when it was accepted as a separate style with its own set of rules.
All events at the 1930 Games were measured in imperial distances: yards, feet and inches. Edinburgh 1970 was the first Games to use metric measurement, now standard across international competition.