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Commonwealth Week – thinking forward to The Games and back to 1914

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Helen Grant MP

Helen Grant is the Minister for Sport and Tourism

I’m writing this at the beginning of Commonwealth Week. This year’s theme is ‘Team Commonwealth’ and, as you know, the Commonwealth Games this year are taking place in Glasgow where the theme will have a special resonance. There’s no Team GB, of course, but all four of the home nations will be fielding teams and hoping to do well. And, as it all takes place in the summer recess I’m hoping to get up there, meet some of the competitors and dignitaries from the different international teams and even, if possible, see some events and cheer on the …

And therein lies the problem. As UK Minister for Sport it’s going to be slightly odd for me. It would be eccentric to cheer on all four of the United Kingdom teams, and all the more so when – as we hope – they are lined up side-by-side in competition. Equally well, I can’t really show support for just one, despite of course being MP for an English constituency.

Friendly but fierce 

In the end, I think the UK is at its finest at times like this – friendly but fierce competition played out in the context of the Commonwealth family. Unity, diversity and fostering greater understanding of the Commonwealth’s achievements and its role, particularly among young people are the aims of Commonwealth Week, but they’ll do very nicely for the Games too. 

Personally, I can’t wait for them to begin but I think neutrality – for me at least – will be the wisest course, even if there are some who’ll perhaps poke fun at me for finding a ‘politician’s solution.’

Eve of the Centenary

The Closing Ceremony for the Games, by chance, takes place on 3 August, quite literally the eve of the centenary of the start of the First World War. And this coincidence of timing is rather fitting, I think. I’ve written here before about what we’re going to be doing for the centenary. The Government programme was set out in outline around 18 months ago by the Prime Minister. The first event of the centenary will be a service in the magnificent surroundings of Glasgow Cathedral, to be attended, we hope, by many of the Commonwealth leaders who were at the closing ceremony for the Games just hours before. 

The ties that bind us together

This is how it should be – a hundred years ago they fought side-by-side with us. Never forget that, in total, there were around 1.2 million British and Commonwealth military deaths in the conflict, and a further two million military wounded. That’s a mind-boggling number and proof, if it were needed, of the ties that bind us together.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission help to make this point by ensuring that the 1.7 million people who died in the two world wars are never forgotten, caring for cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations, in 153 countries. They do this work with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of respect, calmly ensuring that there is a place in perpetuity where the heroism and sacrifice of generations gone by is preserved.

Silent witnesses

The Commission like to quote King George V when explaining their raison d’etre. In Flanders, four years after the War, he said:

‘I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.’

That seems to me to be especially poignant this year, and in this week.

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