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Part of the pride

Our strategic lead for talent and performance shares his impressions of the Trinbago 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games in the Trinidad and Tobago islands and why preserving the Commonwealth sport competitions is key.

18th August 2023

by Duncan Truswell
Strategic lead for talent and performance, Sport England

Last weekend saw the conclusion of the Trinbago 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games, hosted across the islands of Trinidad and Tobago from 4 to 11 August.

The first fully integrated Youth Games with a programme of Para-Swimming and Para-Athletics, it gathered +1000 athletes from the 72 nations and territories of the Commonwealth. 

Team England sent 58 athletes and returned with 49 medals, won across each of the four sports in which we were represented – a great performance including the breaking of multiple Games’ records by athletes from the ‘Covid generation’, those who faced a global pandemic and multiple lockdowns that severely curtailed their training and competition opportunities.

And now, after little more than 18 months, they are competing on the world stage, showing the resilience, fortitude, commitment, application and adaptability that’s needed and expected to succeed.

These traits brought them through the pandemic and kept showing up in the little things, like waiting around for transport, or the ice baths fashioned from humble wheelie bins and commissioned into something much greater.

Why the Games are so important

Major games amplify the trials and tribulations of sport, and sport mirrors life. Adversity is guaranteed and perseverance and adaptability are sometimes rewarded with a medal… but often not.

Panoramic views of one of one of the stadiums of the Trinbago 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games

That’s why we may find big sports events like this so compelling and why boiling the whole experience down to competition and medals alone is so unfair.

For some time, Team GB and Paralympics Team GB have boasted a medal conversion rate of first-time games debutants amongst the very best in the world.

We believe that this opportunity, afforded to our athletes and their peers across the UK has an awful lot to do with that, as attending a major multi-sport games is a formative experience.

It helps exposing athletes to the demands and distractions of a major games, showing the realities of what could be a full time career as high-performance athletes, including media demands, anti-doping procedures…

The same goes for coaches and the wider team behind - we need to create teams of 'games ready' support staff that can build the right environment for our athletes and teams to thrive.

The different home country Commonwealth Games Associations also do a great job of this by working closely with the colleagues and peers across the UK, including the British Olympic association (BOA) and the British Paralympic Association (BPA) to ensure that the experience sets them up to succeed.

The Trinbago experience

It’s been a tough few weeks for the Commonwealth Sport movement as some debate the value and impact of hosting, or indeed participating, in Commonwealth sport competitions.

However, I once again witnessed – just as in Birmingham last year – that all athletes, and the event’s hosts, were thrilled to be there.

Trinidad and Tobago are now left with new and improved facilities, a workforce with experience in delivering high-profile sporting competitions and a generation of swimmers and track and field athletes that demonstrated to their younger peers that with the right commitment and support, they can compete with the very best and win.

I was moved by the national pride outburst when Trinidad and Tobago swimmers lit up the pool with gold and bronze medals in the 50m freestyle, and how the feeling extended to the whole of the Caribbean when a swimmer from the Bahamas completed that podium with a silver.

Major games amplify the trials and tribulations of sport, and sport mirrors life. Adversity is guaranteed and perseverance and adaptability are sometimes rewarded with a medal… but often not.

The Games also matter an awful lot to the athletes and teams of the participating nations, many of whom are challenged to qualify for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

And what about those aspiring athletes from every corner of the Commonwealth, some in seemingly unlikely sports and places that aim to burst out from the shadows?

For them this is an opportunity to compete alongside sporting giants like Australia, Canada or New Zealand. 

These kinds of competitions are also important to the very dedicated coaches, team leaders and practitioners of Team England, as they get an opportunity to support their athletes in a major games, multi-sport environment.

Theirs is not the glamorous and globe-trotting trappings of professional, 'commercial' sport. 

Instead, they travel a lot coaching very early and very late, at weekends and holidays, and they built a team that was a credit to our nation - inclusive and diverse, fierce competitors, supportive of each other, gracious in defeat and humble in victory.

That’s why we, at Sport England, are proud to support them through Commonwealth Games England and their national governing body (NGB) talent pathways. 

An uncertain future

Last year I wrote about the Commonwealth Games Federation acknowledgement of the "challenging history linked to colonial roots"and the shadow it casts over the concept of what has evolved into 'the friendly games', defined by the high competitive standards of athletes who also hold an unwavering regard and respect for one another.

Significant disparities in investment and current performance among the competing teams also exist, and it’s fair to say that English athletes enjoy some considerable advantages over other nations.

However, this competition, with the experience and exposure it creates, significantly helps to close that gap. Plus the inspiration and allure of the games are still powerful motivators to encourage young people to apply themselves to their sport and explore their potential to the fullest. 

I don’t know what will come next for the Commonwealth Games and the Commonwealth sport movement. But I hope that a solution will be found, and soon.

We owe it to this generation, particularly, to provide a sense of security and confidence.

There are thousands of young athletes who dream of attending a future Games, including the 1,200 or so athletes of the UK who have the privilege of representing their home countries at a senior games every four years.

We also owe it to any potential hosts, who as I mentioned above, can gain so much from hosting.

So, as our comprehensive performance review following the Birmingham 2022 Games surmised – should these Games go, we would really miss them.

I hope they stay.

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