Among the many titles bestowed upon the current monarch of the United Kingdom is the Head of the Commonwealth. When Queen Elizabeth II died last week at 96 after the longest ruling tenure in the history of the kingdom, her son King Charles III became the head of state for the 15 member states that are Commonwealth realms.
This is largely a ceremonial position, as are most related to the monarchy in the 21st century, but this passing of power could still prove as a significant shakeup in the world of sports.
“The Commonwealth is a community of like-minded nations, countries that used to be part of the British Empire,” Elisabeth Braw, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute with a specialty in the UK, said last week. “It’s really a community of friendships between nations … the only material benefit is being asked to compete in the Commonwealth Games.”
There has been a long-held belief in some circles of sport that the continued existence of the Commonwealth Games, as with much in the realm of the UK, was tied to the Queen, and might only survive as long as she did. With bidders for the Games becoming harder-and-harder to come by, it was these historic and emotional ties that seemed to be holding the Games apart.
In at least one nation, Jamaica, calls for a change of status have grown over the last week. Polling prior to the death of the Queen already showed a majority of Jamaicans were in favor of such a move as the country continues to reconsider its colonial history.
Jamaica hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1966. In total, the country has won three Commonwealth Games medals in swimming
This does not necessarily mean that Jamaica would leave the Commonwealth of Nations; Republics have been allowed in the Commonwealth since 1949. India was the first Republic admitted to the Commonwealth in 1950.
Since then, the number of nations that have recognized Queen Elizabeth II, and now King Charles III, as their head of state has dwindled. 36 of the 56 member states are now republics, and 5 more have different monarchs.
The continued severance of these historic ties, though, will bring about more questions on the future of the Commonwealth Games (along with the ongoing economic realities of the event).
Not all members of the Commonwealth of Nations are former British subjects or colonies, however. The two most recent additions in June 2022 were Gabon and Togo, both Francophone African nations. Along with Rwanda and Mozambique, they are among four nations without any strong historical ties to the UK or other members of the Commonwealth.
This perhaps brings up the possibility of a reimagining of the Commonwealth Games with a different set of ties to bind them together. While the nature of the history of the Commonwealth Nations is troubling to many in countries like Jamaica, as global tensions rise between east and west, international alliances are as relevant as they’ve been in the last 40 years, at least.
The monarchy is due for modernization in a number of ways after a 70 year reign of Queen Elizabeth II, a renowned defender of tradition. Both King Charles III and his planed successor Prince William have made public statements of their intent to do so. The Commonwealth could be an easy place to start that process.