David Grevemberg: Commonwealth Sport - a Movement in transformation
"We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference." - Nelson Mandela
For over a decade, I have had the honour and privilege to dedicate my work to the Commonwealth Sport Movement, both as the Chief Executive Officer of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and more recently for the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF). However, my connection to the Movement actually dates back to the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games, when in my role as the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Sports Director, I was appointed as the Para-Sport Technical Delegate for five Para-Sports that were officially part of the sports programme for the very first time. It was then that I realised the unique value proposition and complexity of the very notion of the Commonwealth and the important role sport played in its past, present and future. I discovered that sport in the Commonwealth was distinctly positioned not only to celebrate and commemorate individual and collective perseverance and achievement in all its forms, but as a platform for reckoning with our common humanity, as a vehicle for strengthening our pursuit for greater equality and as a call to action for unleashing our common destiny in creating a more peaceful, sustainable and prosperous world.
The Commonwealth comprises of 72 geographically, culturally, ethnically, socially and economically diverse nations and territories (53 countries), some with historical links to the days of the British Empire and others, more recently, simply committed to the ideals and aspirations for peace, prosperity, good governance and human rights as espoused in the Commonwealth Charter. Beyond the borders of these nations and territories, also lies a global diaspora of Commonwealth citizens in almost every country in the world. Their very identity or sense of belonging to the Commonwealth is often unspoken, unrealised or underrated as the very word means different things to different people and invokes emotion, nostalgia, pride and/or disdain.
Over the past decade, since just prior to the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games, I’ve had the opportunity to challenge, influence, champion, commemorate and celebrate, through the power of sport, the relevance and resonance of the Commonwealth. I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to meet and learn from hundreds of extraordinary people, all dedicated in their own ways to changing the world and making it a better place, whether through sport, culture or just small deeds of kindness and generosity. What I’ve learned from a Movement that spans back 90 years, is that change is constant. From the Movement’s inception at the Inter-Empire Championships, as a part of the Festival of Empire, held in London, England in 1911, to the first British Empire Games in 1930 held in Hamilton, Canada to the British Empire and Commonwealth Games held from 1954-1966 and the British Commonwealth Games held from 1970-1974, to the Commonwealth Games held from 1978 till today, this transformational journey originates from a Games held during the days of empire to now a modern and progressive Movement that seeks to enable social change and empowerment.
The Movement is no longer just about hosting a Games, not just about developing brand equity, not just about governing and managing institutions and programmes, it is about much more. It is about a family convening ongoing courageous conversations, creating safe places for reflection, brave innovation and bold actions that have boundless potential and impact, whilst always seeking to stay true to what is collectively valued by those it seeks to represent and serve through the power of sport.
On my reflections in closing the Commonwealth Sport chapter of my career, I would like to share the following moments, I believe were truly transformational for our Movement.
“The greatest of humanity is not being human, but in being humane.” - Mahatma Gandhi
Following some of the well published challenges and successes of the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games, together with the impact of the global financial crisis and public sector austerity measures, a pending vote on Scottish Independence, the reckoning surrounding mass corruption, cheating, abuse and discrimination in sport globally and the understandable comparison being made with the successful London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, there were naturally concerns and animosity in the air leading-up to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. This moment in time provided the Movement an opportunity to breathe and reflect on its values, starting with humanity.
Glasgow 2014 embraced a broad Commonwealth conversation on respecting, protecting and promoting human rights, aligning its planning and delivery in close adherence with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Organising Committee published its approach and results in pre- and post-games reports; the first mega-sporting event to do so anywhere in the world. This was largely applauded by sport and human rights bodies worldwide and continued to be used as a benchmark in our work for both Gold Coast 2018 and Birmingham 2022.
The Games were also recognised for their strong advocacy and action in upholding child safeguarding standards, promoting child rights and mobilising youth engagement and empowerment through a ground-breaking global partnership with UNICEF. In 2014, the partnership came together through its ‘Put Children First’ campaign, raising over £6.5 million prior to and during the Games. United by our joint ambition to transform children’s lives in every Commonwealth country in time for Gold Coast 2018, we aimed to create impact in all 52 Commonwealth nations. To mark the UN International Day for Sport for Development and Peace (6 April 2018) during Gold Coast 2018, we were proud to announce that more than 11.7 million children across the Commonwealth had been positively impacted by the programmes created from our campaign with UNICEF; including more than 540,000 children across all regions of Scotland, the host nation for Glasgow 2014.
I feel particularly proud of these two accomplishments by the Movement. They showcased the global relevance, resonance and impact that Commonwealth Sport had in positively impacting the lives of people and their communities through the work of our Games and wider development initiatives and partnerships.
“The cornerstones on which peace is founded are, quite simply, respect and understanding for one another. Working together (the Commonwealth), we build peace by defending the dignity of every individual and community. By upholding justice and the rule of law, and by striving for societies that are fair and offer opportunities for all, we overcome division and find reconciliation, so that the benefits of progress and prosperity may be multiplied and shared.” - HRM Queen Elizabeth II
The Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, affectionately known as the ‘Games of Firsts,’ showcased the power of the Movement to commemorate and celebrate both the strengths and vulnerabilities of the Commonwealth.
The competing Commonwealth athletes helped us write a new chapter in the history of a modern Commonwealth. Their captivating stories, and unparalleled performances during these Games, brought new meaning to the words ‘Commonwealth Athlete’. We witnessed their incredible pride, both as high performing competitors on the field of play and as champions of causes and passions off it. One of the real talking points was the way our Games had recognised, respected and championed greater discourse surrounding truth, reconciliation and the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (indigenous Australians) as part of a far-reaching commitment to equality. This included a programme where the indigenous peoples of 15 different countries convened with us on the Gold Coast to cement how the Movement would take these important conversations concerning first nation’s peoples’ rights to other parts of our family of nations. It was further celebrated that the Games had seen the largest fully inclusive Para-Sport programme ever, that it was the first Games to achieve gender equality in terms of medal events and that LGBTI+ inclusion took centre stage – which truly shifted the dial in what is a hugely important and current conversation for wider society today.
Fast forward to 2020, during the height of advocacy and activism of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement and the global reckoning on racial equality, we took a stand. CGF President Dame Louise Martin and I published an open letter acknowledging that citizens across the world had mobilised to stand up for equal rights, for freedom, fairness, equality and justice. We accepted that the world of sport could not be an observer. That Games, matches, seasons do not happen in vacuums. That silence or the status quo could not be an option and that our passionate belief that athlete advocacy and activism humanises, rather than politicises, sport. We called for action stating that sport must use its voice and continually seek to reduce inequalities and build peaceful communities. This was also our wake-up call and granted us a social and moral licence to start make changes to address these issues and others in our own Movement.
These examples showcase how the Commonwealth Sport Movement has responded to the realities and challenges of the past and present in order to contribute to a freer, fairer, more equal and just tomorrow for the people and communities we represent and serve.
“One love, one heart, one destiny.” - Bob Marley
Over the past six years, the Movement forged and refreshed its strategy, Transformation 2022, mapping out the priorities, direction of travel and measures of success aligned to the values and impact underpinning a strong common vision of shared destiny. In doing this, we sought to build mutual respect, to listen and learn from one another and create something that would endure and generate value and positive impact on and off the field of play. We incorporated three new corporate and charitable entities in 2016 and 2017, thus creating a group structure to deliver on our strategic ambitions; the CGF, CGF Partnerships (CGFP) and the Commonwealth Sport Foundation (CSF). This initiative enabled the Movement to operate with greater resilience, agility, specialisation and focus in securing and delivering the Commonwealth Games and other event properties, generating support and mobilising resources to more efficiently and effectively build the Commonwealth Sport brand whilst positively impacting societal change day-in and day-out, rather than just every four years.
The establishment of the CGF’s Athletes Advisory Commission (AAC) in 2016, comprising of representatives from all regions, has greatly increased the Movement’s alignment with the voices of Commonwealth Athletes. The strategic focus of the AAC over the coming years to Birmingham 2022 and beyond will be critical in ensuring athlete health, safety and wellbeing remains a top focus, particularly recognising the challenges faced globally in enabling sport to return to play because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, many critical issues facing athlete rights and representation, athlete advocacy and activism and athlete licensing and content will continue to be at the forefront of future dialogue and Movement-wide initiatives.
Over the last six years, we awarded, re-awarded (due to challenging political, economic and environmental conditions) and found hosts for one Commonwealth Games and two Commonwealth Youth Games. We secured the first multi-games global sponsor (Longines), created and embedded a new Games delivery model for Birmingham 2022 and beyond and launched our Foundation with a bold and timely sense of purpose and direction to contribute to addressing some of the Commonwealth’s largest challenges in youth empowerment; equal rights; historical injustice; small states and island states and sustainable cities and communities.
In closing, as I reflect on a decade of service to the Commonwealth Sport Movement, I leave my post with a feeling of absolute pride in how far we have come in such a short time. I also feel a real sense of excitement for a bright future.
I have no doubts that Birmingham 2022 will be a spectacular event and continue to showcase the very best of what Commonwealth Sport has to offer. It has all the potential to be a fantastic moment for some of the world’s most inspiring Commonwealth athletes to tell their stories, showcase their outstanding performances and amplify their voices in solidarity with the Movement’s values.
It has been a privilege to work with the Birmingham 2022 Delivery Partnership in building the foundations for this momentous event. I cannot mention Birmingham 2022 without a special reference to the Chairman, John Crabtree and CEO, my close friend, Ian Reid. We have worked together for many years and the Games is fortunate to have them both at the helm. Their strategic leadership and huge integrity will ensure the success of the event.
The CGF and its two entities (CGFP and CSF) have gone from strength to strength in the last decade and will continue to do so in the years ahead. It has been a true privilege to work closely with Dame Louise and the CGF Executive Board as well as leading the CGF Management Team for the past six years. No doubt in working with them all, my successor will have the necessary tools for long-term success while in the short to medium-term, the CGF Executive Director, Martin Reynolds, will provide creative and inspirational leadership during this critical time.
To the wider Movement, I cannot thank each of you enough for your wonderful support and I will miss you all dearly. I am blessed to have so many people I count on as close friends in our six regions across the Americas, Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. I look forward to that special moment when we can be together again.
Let us never forget, we are in the business of creating peoples’ proudest moments. Let us do so, not by seeking to politicise sport, but rather humanise it as a powerful, inclusive and impactful platform for peace, sustainability and prosperity for everyone. After all, sport is just the beginning.
David Grevemberg CBE served as Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) CEO from November 2014 to March 2021. David joined the CGF from the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games where he was CEO of the Organising Committee and oversaw the successful multi-sport event for Scotland. He was previously the Executive Director of Sport and International Federation Relations at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) headquartered in Bonn, Germany. A former competitive wrestler, during his career he has also served as a coach, athlete agent, team administrator, consultant and Board member.