Why Can’t The USA Compete In The Commonwealth Games? (And Other Burning Questions)

PHOENIX, Arizona, July 22. THE Opening Ceremony of the 20th Commonwealth Games takes place in a matter of hours in Glasgow, Scotland, with swimming heats set to begin Thursday morning. The roster of nations that are invited to this prestigious competitions is an exclusive one, and can’t be entered into with a simple cash payment or oath of allegiance.

It’s easy to figure out which countries are part of the European Union and the African Union. But if you don’t live in a Commonwealth nation, your history books probably only skimmed over the details regarding one of the largest conglomerates of nations in the world.

A Commonwealth country — for the most part — once fell under the rule of the British Empire from the late 1500s to the early 1900s. Besides Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England, most other countries in the Commonwealth have complete autonomy in government but still keep the ruling British monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II) as the head of state, in name only. There are also special trade agreements in place within the Commonwealth that often benefit the smaller nations. The creation of the Commonwealth of Nations in 1931 encompassed one quarter of the Earth’s land mass and reached onto all the livable continents. As of today, 53 nations make up the Commonwealth. Canada, Australia, India and New Zealand are the four most-known countries in the conglomerate. Most other countries are island nations that the British once ruled as trading outposts and kept as unofficial colonies.

The United States “once fell under the rule of the British Empire,” too. Why isn’t it part of the Commonwealth?

One word can answer that question: War. The United States is one of a small number of countries that went to battle against the monarchy for independence, and as a result calls itself a republic. Other countries had a much more peaceful transfer of power, and still recognize the British throne as the highest power in the land. The Republic of South Africa had to undergo a special process to re-enter the Commonwealth after the abolishment of apartheid and keep “Republic” in its official country name. All Commonwealth nations must recognize Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of the Commonwealth.

Has the Commonwealth Games been around as long as the Commonwealth of Nations?

Just a bit longer, actually. The Commonwealth Games started in 1930 and was called “The Empire Games” at a time when the British Empire still had some influence and outright owned colonies around the world. It’s since been a vehicle for the Commonwealth to flaunt itself as an ongoing exhibition of unity. Held every four years, it’s regarded as the top competition for the Commonwealth countries, and one of immense pride for countries that do well. As far as we can tell, no country gets special status or extra financial benefits for performing well at the Commonwealth Games.

I only hear of the Commonwealth every four years during the Commonwealth Games. Is there any other reason that it exists?

The Commonwealth of Nations doesn’t exist just to put on the third-largest sporting event in the world. The heads of government in the 53 nations gather every two years for a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to discuss many topics of mutual interest and to help enforce ideals that each member nation approves. Sometimes, the gathering helps decide on a course of action to help a country end civil war, create a stable economy or draft a new constitution. The Commonwealth is similar to the European Union in this regard, though there is no common currency.

When visiting Commonwealth countries, you’ll notice a few similarities among them. The official language is often English and they all tend to play sports that gained immense popularity in Britain. Cricket and rugby are two sports that are identified worldwide as being British in nature. Though most countries will take great pride in their national heritage that can’t be found elsewhere in the world, the underlying culture has a very British feel, given that British colonists had a strong influence on the country’s birth or its strongest historical period.

More facts about the Commonwealth:
More than 2 billion people live in Commonwealth nations, about 26 percent of the world’s population.

When Queen Elizabeth II dies, her successor (Prince Charles or Prince William) will not automatically become the new Head of the Commonwealth. The heir must be named to the position by a vote of Commonwealth countries.

Rwanda is the newest member of the Commonwealth, joining in 2009.

All Commonwealth countries celebrate Commonwealth Day on the second Monday in March and have done so since 1977.

Facts about the Commonwealth Games:

Only 400 athletes took part in the first Commonwealth Games in 1930, representing 11 countries.

More than 6,000 athletes from 71 countries are set for this year’s Commonwealth Games. The disparity in the number of Commonwealth countries (53) and the number of participating countries in the Games (71) comes from several territories that are not normally recognized as official countries competing under their own flag at the Games. This includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which are collectively known as Great Britain.

Diver Tom Daley has been serving as Commonwealth Games ambassador, and at age 20 he’s the youngest Games ambassador in history.

Australia has won the most gold medals in the Commonwealth Games, with 804. The Aussies have won 2,080 medals, which is 244 more than runner-up England.

Australia has also won the most swimming gold medals at the Commonwealth Games, with 258. The country has won 601 total swimming medals.

Only 15 countries have won swimming medals at the Commonwealth Games. After Australia, England is second on the total medal tally with 324. Canada is third with 317 and New Zealand a distant third with 77.

Feel smarter about the Commonwealth of Nations and the Commonwealth Games? Now you’re ready to enjoy nearly two weeks of the best in aquatic sports battling for medals in Glasgow. Be sure to visit SwimmingWorld.com for recaps and analyses of each day’s swimming events, and reports on diving’s best beginning Thursday!

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Author: Jeff Commings

Jeff Commings is the Senior Writer for SwimmingWorld.com and Swimming World Magazine. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism and was a nine-time NCAA All-American.

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