Since the Commonwealth Games were first held in Hamilton, Canada in 1930, Australia has won more medals than any other nation and has topped the medal tally 13 times. No other country comes close.
The country’s success on the world stage is no accident. Australia invests heavily in all levels of the sport, from grassroots participation programs to talent identification programs, although many would argue that investment in real terms has declined and that if we are to maintain our reputation for ‘hitting above our weight”, there must be an increase.
But Australia has top-notch coaches, world-class facilities and hosts more than its fair share of World Cup and Championship events.
When world and Olympic champion swimmer Cate Campbell addressed international swimming delegates at the FINA Congress in June, her speech centered on what she described as the cornerstone of the sport: “fairness “.
Campbell was speaking specifically about elite competition, citing fairness as the reason why transgender swimmers should be banned from competing in women’s events.
She has won plenty of applause in swimming circles and other advocates against the inclusion of trans women.
And yet, alongside that other well-known sporting cliché of ‘level playing field’, fairness in sport seems to be in the eye of the beholder, as a quick comparison of two countries competing at the Commonwealth Games shows.
Australia, Malawi and Equity Resourcing
As young girls, Cate Campbell and her medal-winning sister Bronte moved with their family to Brisbane from the small, landlocked African country of Malawi. They were taken by their parents to join the local swimming club to integrate into the Australian community.
Now Australians, the sisters took a break from swimming, opting to miss the 2022 Commonwealth Games while one of Malawi’s most skilled swimmers, Tayamika Chang’anamuno, wanted to be in Birmingham this week but was ruled out of the small three-person national swimming team. because they could only afford to take two.
While Cate interrupted her vacation to address world swimming’s governing body and remind them of the importance of fairness, Chang’anamuno was setting a personal best in the pool at the world championships.
Her time of 30.81 in the women’s 50m freestyle was the fastest she had ever swum, finishing 72nd, good enough to grab headlines in Malawi.
“I am delighted with them [the Commonwealth Games]even though I’m not taking part…but I’m happy to see my teammates taking part,” Chang’anamuno told The Ticket.
Malawi is about half the size of Victoria, but its population is rapidly approaching that of Australia. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a median age of just 16.
There are no indoor swimming pools accessible to the public, which makes training impossible during the winter.
There is not a single Olympic 50m swimming pool, although the government is building one at a cost of 9 billion Malawian kwachas, the equivalent of $12 million.
This is extraordinarily expensive for a country where half the population lives below the poverty line.
Asked about the amount, government officials told local media that the International Olympic Committee was funding it, a claim the IOC denied.
Meanwhile, FINA’s suggestion to maintain the sports fair is to have an “open” category for transgender women.
Bronte Campbell told ABC Sport the issue was “very complicated”.
“You have to balance a community that’s been incredibly marginalized and it’s a very vulnerable community,” she said.
“Taking a first step is great, but making sure that we engage with that community as we move forward is also very important.”
Bronte admitted she had never competed against a transgender swimmer, or spoken to one, but said it was good the discussion was happening.
“I’ve never met them in sport before, but I know maybe that’s because there was no place for them…so being able to create that is also important,” he said. she declared.
Although swimmers from Malawi are rare, it is unlikely that there will ever be a transgender swimmer from Malawi, as being transgender is against the law, resulting in jail time and corporal punishment.
Bronte Campbell remembers living in Malawi but was unaware of the treatment of the LGBTQI+ community in a country where 77.3% of the population is Christian and 13.8% Muslim.
“That’s why it’s so important to make sure it’s a fair policy,” she said.
Privilege and equity in an unjust world
How to measure what is right? And who sets the parameters?
Australia has won 936 gold medals, 777 silver medals and 713 bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games, for a total of 2,426.
Almost a third of them came from swimming, almost a quarter from athletics. Here’s a question for your next family quiz – name a sport in which Australia didn’t medal at the Commonwealth Games.
Malawi have competed at every Commonwealth Games since Edinburgh 1970. They have won three medals, all bronze, all in men’s boxing.
While Aussies will be heartbroken over having to choose one event over another to cheer on each of their athletes competing in the latest medal-a-thon, Malawi is pinning its hopes on its currently ranked netball team, the Malawi Queens seventh in the world.
One of its best players is Mwai Kumwenda, a top tier shooter for the Melbourne Vixens in Super Netball, the most competitive league in the world. In Malawi, there is not a single professional level court.
Kumwenda was the top scorer at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014. Queens have twice finished fifth at the Games, just before the bronze medal game. This may be their year.
Alongside the 12-member Birmingham netball team are three track and field athletes, two judo competitors, three boxers and two swimmers. The 22 athletes will be accompanied by almost as many officials.
In contrast, Australia funds its largest overseas team – 433 athletes and 321 team officials. One of them is set to become Australia’s 1,000th gold medalist.
In many ways, Australia struts around the international sporting scene like it’s the lucky nation, but it’s more than just luck. Public servants today are generally held to account, policies are considered, and our politicians are supportive.
The Australian team will arrive in Birmingham as one of the most privileged – well supported financially, physically and mentally.
For many of our opponents in Birmingham, that won’t be the case. For them, getting to the start line has little to do with fairness, let alone for swimmer Tayamika Chang’anamuno, who will be cheering on her teammates from home.