Australia celebrates the arrival of the Commonwealth Games. As a sporting nation, it's hard for the locals not to be excited about the chance to see the non-stop action generated by some of the world's top athletes. The more controversial aspect of the Games is whether the monarchy of England still has any relevance to the people of Australia. The nomenclature of the Games has changed many times, from British Empire Games to British Empire and Commonwealth Games, from British Commonwealth Games to just Commonwealth Games. Cynics ask if this special status is a colonial relic, an imperial anachronism.
It could certainly be claimed the Queen means very little to the average person in the streets of capital cities and country towns in Australia. Regardless of any cynicism, the Commonwealth Games - whatever its origins and purported symbolism - remains an occasion to celebrate human life, camaraderie and the spirit and capability inherent in the human body. In terms of athlete participation, the Commonwealth Games remains third only to Olympics and World Police and Fire Games. >From the point of view of visibility, it is only behind the Olympics and the Football World Cup. And, apart from the Olympics, it remains the most colorful, and the most cosmopolitan, of all human competitive events.
It is befitting the Games come to Melbourne at a time when the questions and the celebrations are equally poised to accuse and defend the Commonwealth. Named after a British Prime Minister, Melbourne was one of the earliest European settlements south of the Equator. It rose from a small settlement harboring settlers coming from Tasmania into the state capital, and after the discovery of gold, developed into a thriving city. During the late Victorian period, Melbourne was the second largest city of the Empire after London, and the national capital for the first quarter of the 20th century.
It has the highest number of foreign students south of the Equator, a population profile that is the envy of London or New York, and thrice it has been named the world's best city to live in. While Melbourne wears its cosmopolitan heart on its sleeve, it could be argued it is proud of its Empire connections. It has the largest number of Victorian buildings outside of London, and its favorite sports remains a game where colonial rivalry with its mother country is a cause for eternal cheer among Melbournians. At the center of local celebrations is Festival Melbourne 2006, with the motto 'Celebration. Exploration. Revelation'.
A cultural extravaganza featuring 2,500 world class performing artists from around the world, it is slated as the largest cultural festival ever held in Australia. With eleven days of non-stop music, dance, circus, street theatre and visual arts, Melbourne will go into cultural overdose. The best part? It's FREE. A parallel event that is part of the Commonwealth Games and is supported by Victorian and Australian governments, Festival Melbourne will flower from Federation Square to Alexandra Gardens, the Myer Music Bowl, Docklands, the Arts Precinct and right across Melbourne, with regional festivals in Ballarat, Geelong, Moe and Bendigo. For the first time the Opening Ceremony will flow out of the Stadium onto the streets and into the iconic Yarra river.
In a spectacular display, 71 nations will be represented by different creatures. The Mayor of Melbourne has said "Melbournians love the Yarra, and we look forward to showing off our waterfront city to a global television audience of more than 1.5 billion". After a gruelling summer "down under", the balmy month of March promises to bring many cheers. Melbourne has always been a sporting city hosting everything from cricket to sell-out international concerts - the opening ceremony is being held in a refurbished MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground), considered by many to be one of the best pitches in the World.
It's also the home of Aussie Rules - Melbourne is not incapable of making its own entertainment! The Australian Football League (AFL or Aussie Rules) is a massive spectator sport and regularly packs out the MCG with the huge following from local fans. Crowds of 70-80,000 are not uncommon at weekly matches, with the known record at the MCG being over 120,000 as far back as the 1970's when Carlton defeated Collingwood in a moment of historical significance. Denied the opportunity to host cricket for some time during reconstruction, the refurbished MCG with an extended capacity promises to host the massive crowds during and after the Commonwealth Games, including future tennis, rugby and many other sports. With a cosmopolitan ambience that suits locals and foreigners alike- whether one is talking of culture, weather, food or scenery - Melbourne is the essence of the Commonwealth translated into true Aussie flavour. Melbourne beckons visitors all year round - and the extra creations springing forth courtesy of the Commonwealth Games preparations, just add to the eclectic appeal.
Summary It's likely the spirit and camaraderie of the Commonwealth Games will survive any question of its relevance. In its latest incarnation in Melbourne, the Commonwealth will try to cross many erstwhile boundaries as it tries to reach out to the people. At the centre of this celebration and as its chief sponsor, Melbourne is set to be a happening part of the world this March. With a sporting extravaganza rivaling the best, and with Melbourne's own charms in the form of facilities, tourism, travel, food and adventure, there never was a better time to make acquaintance with a city that has been named the best three times in the last five years. .