Archive for the ‘Celebrating Diversity’ Category

A meaningful hijrah

Monday, September 10th, 2018

MUSLIMS welcome another new year in the Islamic calendar tomorrow. It was 1440 years ago that Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and the early Muslims migrated from Makkah to Madinah, which marked the first year of the Hijrah calendar.

For many Makkah Muslims then, the decision to migrate was done with a heavy heart as they had to leave their homeland to a new place. But their faith and love for Islam soothed their doubts and worries.

The Hijrah has significance not just to the Islamic world but also to world civilisation. It did not merely signify a final destination for Makkah Muslims, but was also the beginning of a continuous effort to establish a strong and resilient ummah.

While many Muslims prefer to discuss the Hijrah from the perspective of personal transformations, it is also important to put into context the other impacts from the migration. These include the reshaping of the political, economic and social aspects of the Muslim community, which became the central foundation for Islamic civilisation. This all-encompassing impact of Prophet Muhammad and his followers’ migration from Makkah strengthened the viewpoint of Islam as a comprehensive religion and a complete system of life for its adherents.

It was during this period that an Islamic civilisation was built, gained prominence and lasted for centuries.

The strength of the nation was not measured by the number of weapons, soldiers and wealth, instead, the foundation of the religion, that is the framework of tawhid (oneness of God) and the prophethood of Muhammad as the final Messenger of God cemented the whole life system. This was epitomised through the characters of Muslims in their political, economic and social affairs. Muslims today must therefore emulate the will, courage and strong conviction of the muhajjirin(the emigrants) to bring about changes and improvements to oneself and the ummah.

The Hijrah also offers important lessons in leadership. When Makkah Muslims migrated to Madinah, they were welcomed by Madinah Muslims.

Prophet Muhammad’s leadership was able to unite two Muslim communities with different sects and religious beliefs just on the basis of faith. His position as the leader in Madinah stemmed from the essence of power bestowed on him by society and also through divine authority.

The Prophet took the position of leadership as a trust from the people of Madinah and also from Allah. Therefore, a lesson to be learnt from this is the importance of upholding amanah (trust) andadl (justice) among leaders.

Other lessons from hijrah: the Prophet brought together different tribes, cultures and religions. The people of Madinah were taught to be more kind, compassionate and giving towards one another.

The kinship formed between Makkah Muslims and Madinah Muslims, the end of intertribal conflicts between the tribes of Aws and Khazraj, and the acceptance of other religious communities as part of Madinah society, paved the way for the establishment of a strong and stable nation under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad.

For a multiracial and multireligious country like Malaysia, there is so much to learn from this historical episode.


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Haj shows me what Islam is

Monday, September 10th, 2018
The sight of the Kaabah within the Grand Mosque, and the undulating sea of people circling it, is mesmerising, almost hypnotic.

THE haj season this year officially closed two weeks ago. It was, gratefully, a smooth and successful season with several historic feats achieved for Malaysian pilgrims, among them, fast-track immigration pre-clearance and air-conditioned tents in Arafah.

Since returning after covering the pilgrimage as a journalist and performing the haj at the same time, I’ve been trying to put my thoughts in order. It’s challenging as it feels like an entire lifetime passed in the reasonably short period of 55 days I was in the Holy Land.

Arriving at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport just a few seconds to our National Day, and back on familiar ground in the days thereafter, it felt as if nothing has changed, but so much, in effect, has

Haj, it has been said, is a powerful experience, and a catalyst for change like no other. And it is.

There was much I learnt being part of a global community of more than two million people. We trekked under the scorching heat of the desert sun, and waded through the crush of people together, sharing not just succulent Ajwa dates and refreshment, but tears and laughter

I saw how it’s possible for people of different colour, backgrounds, and stations in life to co-exist as one. No one is on a pedestal higher than the other, or more important. Everyone looks the same and is clothed in similar garments, free of all their worldly trappings. We may not know the different languages spoken, but everyone understands each other completely when reciting the talbiah, takbir and verses from the Quran.

This incredible diversity of people who journeyed from all corners of the globe for a singular purpose is indeed a sight to behold and you will be made acutely aware how small you are amid this ocean of humanity

If only this spirit, as well as sense of community, charity and brotherhood can be replicated at all other times, and in all places.

I also learnt that the haj is not to be feared. Some are reluctant to fulfil the fifth pillar of Islam and put it off until they are in their twilight years not because of financial constraints but because of a sense of unworthiness or unpreparedness. I felt the same too and these thoughts were swirling in my head: am I ready? There is still so much I don’t know. What if I embarrass myself by doing something wrong?

I will, therefore, always be grateful for this advice: “Don’t wait. Go when you are invited. As long as you go with sincerity and an open heart, InsyaAllah, all will be well.”

In Makkah, I met elderly pilgrims who regretted making the journey so late in their lives as obstacles are more difficult to surmount when the body is frail and weak.

Indeed, much has been said about how physically demanding the haj is. It can be arduous, especially now in the summer months, when temperatures soar above 40°C.

This is hot enough to cause mobile phones to overheat and shut down.

Thus, it is crucial to be prepared. There will be discomfort, inconveniences, long waits and even longer walks during Masyair, when pilgrims move from Makkah to Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina to perform the haj rituals. Even religious guides from Tabung Haji (TH), Malaysia’s pilgrims fund, advise people not to neglect physical preparations — exercising and eating nutritiously — before departing for the Holy Land. Spiritual preparations alone do not suffice as a certain level of fitness is required for all the walking.

And just how long are the walks? At Mina alone, it is at least 7km daily under the blazing sun from the tent site to the multi-storey Jamarat Complex for the stoning ritual, and back.

Thankfully, when it seemed like my legs were turning to jelly, I would see determined senior citizens charging ahead with their walking sticks, and come across Saudi volunteers with water sprays shouting, “Five more minutes!”, and feel re-energised.

For women, it is also important to be armed with knowledge, especially with regards menstruation, as ignorance can have serious consequences.

Ask a religious guide if unsure. Nothing is too embarrassing when it comes to something as important as the haj, which most people have an opportunity to perform only once in their lifetime.

As it is, the highest number of inquiries received by TH guides are from women concerned about menstruating during the haj, a situation brought about by the increasingly younger age of pilgrims.

But what I learnt most of all from my journey is what Islam is. Not how it is often portrayed. Not unforgiving, judgmental or eager to punish. Not about hate, anger or retribution, and not about brimstone and hellfire.

Throughout the haj journey for me, there is a sense of Islam as it is in its truest form. One can feel it when in the holy cities.

This feeling of love, mercy, and compassion; it permeates the air at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, which was once the home of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

The sight of the Kaabah within the Grand Mosque, and the undulating sea of people circling it is mesmerising, almost hypnotic.

This is where Muslims face five times every day in prayer, no matter where they are in the world.

By Sofea Chok Suat Ling.

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Govt to introduce Cultural Diversity Day, says Waytha Moorthy

Sunday, September 9th, 2018
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Senator P. Waytha Moorthy (2nd-left) attends the ‘Karnival Explorasi Perpaduan Merdeka 2018’ at Pantai Sri Tujuk in Tumpat. Pic by SYAMSI SUHAIMI

KOTA BARU: The government will introduce Cultural Diversity Day to instil the spirit of unity among Malaysians, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Senator P. Waytha Moorthy.

Waytha, who is in charge of national unity and social wellbeing, said the special celebration is expected to be held in March next year.

“Since becoming a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, I have been thinking about what should be done and the changes we should bring to instil unity among the various races.

“I think the Cultural Diversity Day will serve as a good platform to showcase Malaysia’s cultures and traditions.

“For example, the Tarian Asyik and Rebana Kerching may only be popular in Kelantan but I want them to be visible to all Malaysians so that we can learn more about our country’s culture,” he said.

Waytha said this after officiating the state-level ‘Karnival Explorasi Perpaduan Merdeka 2018’ at Pantai Sri Tujuk here today.

Present was Kelantan National Unity and Integration Department director Norwahidah Zinalibdin.

Waytha also praised the Kelantanese culture for being able to unite the people, saying it should serve as a model for other states to follow.

“Kelantanese culture is very unique and everyone regardless of race is able to speak the Kelantanese dialect well.

When I was having breakfast at a Chinese coffeeshop here this morning, I was impressed to see that 80 per cent of its customers are Malay.

“They managed to unite the people of Kelantan through food and this is a very different environment compared to the west coast.

By Nor Fazlina Abdul Rahim.

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Inspiring recovery recorded in new book

Monday, August 27th, 2018
Timeless story: Visitors to Penang Hill browsing through a copy of ‘Healing Penang Hill’ during its launch ceremony.

Timeless story: Visitors to Penang Hill browsing through a copy of ‘Healing Penang Hill’ during its launch ceremony.

GEORGE TOWN: The remarkable story of how Penang Hill got back on its feet two months after the havoc brought by the landslides last November is documented in a new book.

Many expected that it would take at least two or three years to recover from the damage caused by over 319 landslides.


Now, the tireless efforts of volunteers, government agencies and the Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) have been recorded in a pictorial book titled Healing Penang Hill.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, who launched the book, said it captured the aftermath well with photographs of the landslides along with the restoration and rehabilitation works.

“The book records the progress made over 51 days, from the day of the disaster on Nov 4 till the day the funicular train service restarted operations on Dec 25 last year,” he said.

Lim, who is also former Penang chief minister, said the book launch came at an appropriate time as it was held during the maiden Penang Hill Festival.

“With the festival’s theme being ‘See the Nature. Feel the History’, it is apt to celebrate Penang Hill’s rich history, natural habitat and cultural heritage.

“This pictorial book serves as a reminder to us that our beloved hill must be preserved and conserved for our future generations.

“The extensive reconstruction work has just begun.

“I hope the healing process will accelerate and that Penang Hill will become fully green once again,” he said.

PHC general manager Cheok Lay Leng said the 80-page book featured pictures of those who worked or contributed on-site at various locations during the recovery process.

“All the photos were taken using handphone cameras and there are over 160 photos of various sizes featured in the book.

“These pictures detail the landslide areas, the rescue mission, recovery work as well as the re-­opening of the funicular train service,” he said.

The book, Cheok added, was not for sale as it was a recording of a disaster on an unprecedented scale and the recovery work that followed involving the corporation and its partners, stakeholders and volunteers.

He said it was also a way to acknowledge all the contributors, including foreign workers who worked extended hours.

“We want this book to serve as a reminder of what happened to Penang Hill in the years to come,” he said.

As for the number of visitors to Penang Hill, Cheok said 2016 registered 1.6 million visitors, a figure that was expected to have gone up last year if not for the landslides that resulted in the temporary closure.

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Holistic cultural and arts policy needed

Sunday, August 26th, 2018
A Wayang Kulit performance during a cultural and arts presentation at Muzium Negara. There is a need to re-educate the public to appreciate the beauty of classical traditional performing arts such as the Makyong, Wayang Kulit, Joget Gamelan dances and others. FILE PIC

IT has now passed 100 days for the Pakatan Harapan government since it replaced Barisan Nasional. A slew of reforms has been initiated to restructure the administration to conform to the principles of honesty, integrity, accountability and the rule of law

Measures taken target economic, financial and fiscal issues as well as weeding out corruption. It would be wishful thinking that these efforts would bear fruit within a hundred days.

Notwithstanding, the new government has failed to address a significant aspect of governance that deals with cultural and artistic policy. Perhaps arts and culture have the lowest priority in government planning as most politicians and high level civil servants are unaware of its significance in the development and wellbeing of the people and country. They usually dismiss it as mere entertainment while some politicians regard it as sinful.

In fact, cultural expressions reflect the soul and identity of a community or a nation. Both tangible and intangible artistic expressions permeate all aspects of our lives — from clothing, handbags, jewellery, cars, living space, music, dances and dramatic expressions to films and television.

There is a need for a concerted effort to create a holistic cultural and arts policy to replace the existing one which is based just on promoting cultural events and performances as addendum to the tourist industry.

As a result of this, our cultural and artistic products are substandard and we have never excelled in the various artistic expressions. This has also caused the neglect and demise of many forms of traditional artistic expressions. And the people have become that much poorer having lost their cultural and artistic identity and heritage.

The arts and culture are integral to education and industry both as aesthetic and functional ingredients not only in national physical and materialistic development but also as an emotional therapeutic element in the wellbeing of the people.

It needs to be reminded that arts and culture as part of the educative process play a significant role in the development of visual thinking that trains the mind to visualise objects and phenomena in their physical and abstract perspectives. Yet the arts are given minimal emphasis in our schools’ and universities’ curricula, which give priority to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects.

As both aesthetic and functional products, the arts and culture generate economic turnover as part of the creative industries that not only brings economic returns but equally important provides job opportunities. Unfortunately, the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry does not have qualified and thinking personnel to explore employment and revenue-generation aspects of the creative industry much less, the psychological and therapeutic perspectives.

Arts and culture have their own dynamism and make their presence felt through a variety of manifestations in various forms of expressions. They reflect an innate trait of human behavioural pattern that relates to life itself. To accommodate these needs, the related ministries need to plan and strategise three levels of cultural and artistic pursuits, namely, traditional, popular and haute culture (high culture).

Traditional culture has to be preserved and revitalised as our cultural heritage is fast disappearing due to the thrust of modern forms of alien cultural expressions. There is a need to re-educate the public to appreciate the beauty of classical traditional performing arts such as Makyong, Wayang Kulit, Joget Gamelan dance and other traditional dances.

This can only be done through a proper educative process to develop traditional practitioners and the infrastructure to accommodate the performances as well as a support base for arts and culture.

Popular culture is an imitation of western pop culture that appeals to the masses, especially the youths and teenagers and consists of pop concerts, heavy metal, modern dances and light musicals, which are the mainstay of modern artistic expressions with their own cult and fan groups. These youths need be guided to the artistry of these performances.

Haute culture or high culture, refers mainly to western classical music, dances (ballet and modern) and dramatic performances such as musicals and serious plays of universally known playwrights the likes of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Pirandello, Aristophanes as well as works by eminent local writers such as Noordin Hassan, Usman Awang, Syed Alwi, Dinsman, Kalam Hamidy and others. These haute culture performances appeal to the sophisticated and the elite of society.

All of these are markers, which designate a sophisticated society that appreciates the arts and is proud of its traditional cultural heritage as well as provides the youths and teens with the opportunities to appreciate and create popular artistic expressions.

There is, therefore, a need for the ministry to start thinking of these various aesthetic, philosophical and social and economic implications of arts and culture and not regard them as merely a form of mundane celebration.


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Celebrating Malaysia’s diversity

Friday, August 17th, 2018

KOTA BELUD: Known for its tapestry of cultures belonging to various ethnic groups, Kota Belud is a showcase for racial unity and harmony.

The ubiquitous coffee shop in this quaint little town, located about 70 kilometres from Kota Kinabalu, is the favourite meeting place for the locals, where they talk about everything from politics to the latest goings-on whilst sipping hot coffee or tea.

Their ethnic or religious dissimilarities do not get in the way of their social interaction and they are all friends and look out for each other.

The Kota Belud district has a predominantly Bajau population, with the rest made up of people from the Kadazandusun and other ethnic communities.

The sentiments expressed by a senior denizen, Ebin Adim, clearly sums up the genuine camaraderie that prevails there.

“In the coffee shop, we all sit together. It doesn’t matter whether we are Bajau, Kadazandusun, Murut or anyone, we are familiar with each other and don’t think along racial lines,” said the 78-year-old Bajau craftsman who is an expert in making the Bajau parang or machete.

Ebin, who lives with his wife in Kampung Siasai Kumpang, here, reckoned that the most important ingredient in their recipe for peaceful coexistence was the fact they were “not clannish. We’re also not envious of each other and neither do we oppress one another although we belong to different ethnic groups”.

This writer met Ebin during a media visit to Kota Belud last month organised by the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation (Kraftangan Malaysia).

Colourful cultures

The affable senior citizen, who became a parang craftsman at the age of 18, invited the visiting journalists to his house where his workshop is also located and treated them to fried noodles and hot coffee prepared by his niece who lives nearby.

Ebin said the people of Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia should strive to live in unity and show their love and respect to the nation.

“In the earlier days, life was difficult for us but as our country progressed, life became better for us.

“I’m already old… it’s my hope that we, especially the younger generation, will continue to live in harmony. Don’t deliberately trigger conflicts as it will only lead to hardship for the people. We should all value the peace we enjoy now and our nation’s progress.”

Hoping the Land Below the Wind would also be able to reap the fruits of the nation’s overall economic development, he said it would foster more love for the nation at every level of society as the people of Sabah would not feel left behind in their own homeland.

Rattan craft entrepreneur Empin Galing, 58, who is a Kadazandusun and lives in Kampung Gansurai, said ethnic and cultural diversity was something to be celebrated as it was what that made this country unique.

“Our colourful cultures make us different from other countries. Our country may have its flaws but, still, it’s our homeland. However appealing another nation may look, it’s not the country we are willing to die for,” said Empin, who is also headman of his village.


Meanwhile, academic Jayum Anak Jawan, who is a Dayak Iban and hails from Sungai Assan in Sibu, Sarawak, said national integration efforts have helped to bring the people of Sabah and Sarawak closer to their fellow citizens in the peninsula.

The New Economic Policy, introduced in 1971, had succeeded in assisting to promote national integration among the people of different ethnicities from different geographical regions, he said.

Jayum, a professor (Politics and Government) in the Department of Government and Civilisation Studies at Universiti Putra Malaysia, said it (NEP) also led to higher social interaction between the people of Sabah and Sarawak and the peninsular and helped to forge mutual respect and appreciation.

And, now with the creation of a new socio-political environment after Pakatan Harapan won the 14th General Election, the people hoped to see healthier levels of integration and unity.

“The government has already made some changes towards being more inclusive and creating a ‘New Malaysia’. For example, after a long time, a Chinese has been appointed as Finance Minister (Lim Guan Eng) and, for the first time, non-Malays were appointed to the post of Attorney-General (Tommy Thomas) and Chief Judge (Tan Sri Richard Malanjum, a Kadazandusun)… this is actually a huge signal (of change),” he said, when contacted by Bernama.

However, he added, a lot more needs to be done by the government to strengthen unity among the various races.


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Dr M to propel Malays further

Friday, July 20th, 2018
(File pix) Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad sees himself as the ‘deliverer ’ for Malays into the future. Pix by Mohamad Shahril Badri Saali

AT 93, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has returned to become prime minister for the second time, having served from 1981 to 2003.

Pakatan Harapan’s pronouncement of a “new Malaysia starting from zero” has raised eyebrows at home and abroad.

To his admirers and supporters, all seems possible with Dr Mahathir.

“Dr M is staying on doing what he does best” is their mantra.

His political resilience has been the subject of interest among Malaysian academics.

Many have attributed his longevity to his mental agility, intellectual capacity, resoluteness in surviving any crisis and keeping true to his vision.

Three of his ideas have stood out — justice and equity for all; Islam in nation-building; modern economy and a developed nation — all encapsulated in his Vision 2020.

This was delayed by the Asian financial crisis in the 1990s. Upon being re-appointed as prime minister, he said he would hold the post for two years.

On another occasion, he said he would be willing to continue, if required.

An academic has observed that Dr Mahathir’s second tenure as prime minister would enable him to complete “unfinished business”, which the academic has defined as two-pronged.

First, it is his wish to see his Vision 2020 become a reality, even if the final date was extended by five years.

Depending on the nation’s coffers, Vision 2020 may see the light of day only in 2025.

Second, it has to do with Dr Mahathir’s vision for Malays. The academic said Dr M held dearly his dream of changing the mindset of Malays, even during his time in Umno.

But beyond that, Dr Mahathir sees himself as the “deliverer” for Malays into the future by a process that he has described as “positive intervention”.

It is my belief, which differs from many academics, that Dr Mahathir wants Malays to go beyond the so-called “Malay dilemma” (his rationale for Malays to get out of the comfort zone of their own weaknesses, as written in a book by him of the same name) and to accept the facts of history, which saw Malays taking action to bring about changes to the community.

Such positive intervention included rejecting the Malayan Union proposal in 1946, setting the country right again after the 1969 racial riots, and now, keeping the “Reformasi” movement alive.

Dr Mahathir believes Umno has made itself irrelevant to the political scene. The road to success for Malays will be to shift their support to PH, which, to Dr Mahathir, is Umno’s successor.

In so doing, Malays will enable themselves to overcome the second “Malay dilemma” phase, which is understood as the demand for more sacrifices from Malays to ensure a place for them in the future.

By Dr Azhari-Karim.

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‘A single multiracial party to strengthen GPS’

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018
Parti Rakyat Sarawak’s (PRS) suggestion to form a single multiracial party is meant to build a strong political foundation for Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS). (File pix)
By Goh Pei Pei - June 20, 2018 @ 12:51pm

KUCHING: Parti Rakyat Sarawak’s (PRS) suggestion to form a single multiracial party is meant to build a strong political foundation for Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS).

Its Youth publicity chief Andy Lawrence said his party president Tan Sri James Jemut Masing believed it was crucial to further strengthen the local parties while GPS was still at its infancy.

“We accept the fact that it has to be finetuned and respect Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Abang Openg’s notion that it is an evolution.”

PRS, however, did not mean to dictate GPS’ structure instead it was merely giving suggestions.

“Our president (James Masing) was putting up a bold, realistic and constructive suggestion for the betterment of GPS and Sarawak as a whole,” Andy said.

“We believe to challenge or change the current status of the political environment shouldn’t be viewed as a negative move.

“We need to come out from this scenario as changes are necessary in this new political landscape,” he added.

“Although making changes would be tough, it is necessary to continue to stay relevant.”

He said a recent call by certain quarters for PRS to change its president was uncalled for.

By Goh Pei Pei.

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Hosiani crowned as 2018 Unduk Ngadau

Friday, June 1st, 2018

Hosiani James Jaimis, the new Sabah Unduk Ngadau flanked by Sherrylyn Jane Rannytho of Penampang (3rd right) and Vanessa Audrey Gilbert from Putatan.

PENAMPANG: Inanam representative in the State Unduk Ngadau,Hosiani James Jaimis, was crowned this year’s Unduk Ngadau at the Hongkod Koisaan.

She beats 45 other contenders and brings home RM86,050 worth of prizes including a RM12,000 cash prize sponsored by Datuk Peter Anthony and Datin Linda Hanfif.

She also brings home a trophy, sash and scholarships from the North Borneo University College worth RM36,500 and from Asian Tourism International College worth RM25,000.

The second prize went to Penampang contender, Sherrlyn Jane Rannytho. She brings home RM22,900. This includes RM8,000 cash prize and a trophy.

The third prize worth RM14,500 went to Vanessa Audrey Gilbert from Putatan.

The 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th winners are Madeline Sophie Binidip (Johor), Puang Hui Ling@Arin Puang (Ranau),Mary Grace Lojuki (DBKK) and ,Tanessja Shanelle Mojitoh (Kapayan).

by Jenne Lajiun.

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Commonwealth Games: Is it still relevant?

Thursday, April 5th, 2018
The Malaysian contingent at the Commonwealth Games flag-raising ceremony in Gold Coast, Australia. A total of 175 Malaysian athletes are competing in 16 sports at the Games. PIC BY YAZIT RAZALI

AMID the skyscrapers and coastline of Surfers Paradise in Australia’s Gold Coast, one can spot a large surfboard with a digital clock, determinedly counting down.

The Commonwealth Games will descend this week onto the Gold Coast’s beaches, bringing with it the world’s best athletes and nagging questions of relevance, competitiveness and economic effect.

The multi-sport event has gathered various nations of the British Commonwealth every four years since 1930, barring a few wartime aberrations. It was originally known as the British Empire Games, hosting various combinations of countries, with Australia and Britain among the mainstays. The 2018 Games will draw athletes from 71 Commonwealth nations and territories who will compete in 275 events over 18 sports.

Despite the impending glow of an international audience, familiar concerns over the games’ substantial cost and dwindling significance have again come to the fore, this time in the Australian state of Queensland.

There is little doubt the Commonwealth represents a particular, if ageing, type of might — it still represents about a third of the world’s population. Set up in the mid-20th century as Britain allowed for the self-governance of many of its territories, the Commonwealth of Nations have no legal obligations to one another, but instead aim to further shared values like democracy and freedom of speech.

But, in a post-Brexit landscape, and with many countries shrinking further into isolationism, questions have been raised not only of the games’ relevance, but the relevance of the Commonwealth itself.

“The Commonwealth matters to me,” said Jacqui Gooding, a New Zealander who was visiting Surfers Paradise on vacation.

“The queen is our leader — I don’t want a president.”

Gooding’s husband, John, dismissed the idea that the games would be absent of sporting and political relevance.

“It’s about bringing all the nations of the Commonwealth together,” he said.

“It shows the power of sport in diplomacy, and the importance of the Commonwealth.”

Organisers on the Gold Coast said they expected the games to reach a global audience of 1.5 billion. For context, the 2014 World Cup had about 3.2 billion global viewers and the Rio Olympics had about 3.6 billion.

The mood of locals varied from enthusiasm to curiosity to, occasionally, eye-rolling frustration at construction and traffic delays.

Nick Atkins, who runs a co-working space on the Gold Coast, has been an advocate for attracting and retaining talent in the region. He said he was more excited about the government’s spending on infrastructure than the events themselves.

“For me, personally, I don’t know who the Commonwealth’s best javelin thrower is, or table tennis player or swimmer,” he said.

“But, there’s an undeniable positivity on the Gold Coast for it.”

Peter Beattie, a former premier of the state of Queensland, and the chairman of the Gold Coast Games, said that he empathised with those who had reservations about the event.

“I understand that there’s always a bit of cynicism: Is this the remnants of the Empire? Look, it came from the Empire Games, but its relevance and relationship with the Empire Games is very tenuous,” he said.

This year’s games, for the first time, will feature an equal gender split of events. Women will compete for the same number of me-dals as men, a feat that organisers said had not been replicated by any other major multi-sport international event, including the Olympics.

Beattisaid that the games would send a message about the advancement of women that he hoped the Olympics would emulate.

Others said the games presented athletes with a rare chance at higher competition like the Olympics and World Championships — and some athletes with perhaps the peak competition of their careers

“I just snuck into the Commonwealth Games. It was the first major team that I made, representing Australia — they have more relaxed standards,” said Steve Moneghetti, a retired Australian runner who eventually competed in four Olympic marathons.

“It’s a good stepping stone, and certainly for some athletes it will be the only multisport competition that they go to.”

It is easy to see why for certain nations these games may be just as watchable as the Olympics — there’s a far greater chance of seeing a fellow countryman win.

Medal count aside, host cities have faced increasing pressure in recent games to ensure that the economic effect of the event proves both positive and sustainable.

Last year, the South African city of Durban was stripped of the right to host the games in 2022, following a series of missed deadlines and financial shortcomings. The African continent has never hosted the games.

Before that, India’s 2010 Games were marred by accusations of substantial overspend and corruption.

The 2014 Games in Glasgow proved something of a litmus test for the economic and cultural credibility of the event

There, a large chunk of responsibility fell to an American, David Grevemberg, who had previously been part of a team that secured an agreement that would require Olympic cities to also host the Paralympics.

“Post India, we had a brand that’s relevance was being questioned,” said Grevemberg, who today is the chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation.


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