Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Going beyond sports: The Commonwealth has an important role to play in development

Photo of Sir Richard JollyWhat remains of the Commonwealth?

Watching the teams march past for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games remains as stirring as ever, for the handsome diversity of the athletes themselves and the dazzling colours and contrasting styles of their uniforms: 73 teams from 53 countries for "the friendly games." But is this the best that remains of the Commonwealth today?

If so, it is a bit sad and perhaps a challenge to remember and revive some of the Commonwealth's earlier achievements. At its best, the organisation's Secretariat provided practical and highly professional support for countries coping with the early challenges of independence or grappling with such divisive issues as negotiating fair deals with mining companies or multinational corporations.

The Commonwealth also produced policy reports on topics such as ending corruption or engendering development. The Institute of Development Studies provided some of the experts contributing to these activities - Mike Faber, Roland Brown, Richard Longhurst and others.

Interaction and shared learning should not just be confined to the sports arena

Many of us believe that the Commonwealth could and should still have a role in such activities, providing support and speaking out with frankness on difficult topics in a way which too readily get lost or distorted in the larger UN or in more limited regional organisations such as the OECD or EU or ESCAP. The Commonwealth has English as a common means of communication but otherwise is a microcosm of the larger world, with rich, middle income and poorer countries and many of the LDCs and Small Island States which need special consideration.

Corruption, financial regulation, reporting on assets held in overseas tax havens are only the beginning of a list of hot economic topics suitable for Commonwealth consideration. What also about topics such as diffusing tensions arising from religious or cultural differences, on which many Commonwealth countries have rich experience to draw on? Or multicultural education? The UK as well as other rich members of the Commonwealth now have as much to learn as they have to contribute in these areas.

Sport should not be the only arena for interaction and mutual learning, or the only place where Commonwealth countries, large and small, can gain medals and recognition from such friendly participation.

By Richard Jolly