Commonwealth Games

Commonwealth Games

Share the dream: Progressive Commonwealth Games open in the Gold Coast

For the first time at a Commonwealth Games, men and women will compete for the same amount of medals.

Medal equality for genders, simultaneous para sport, social conscience initiatives among highlights

Canadian flag-bearer Meaghan Benfeito, right, believes women athletes will leave a lasting impact on the 2018 Commonwealth Games. (Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press)

GOLD COAST, Australia — The 21st edition of the "Friendly Games" are officially underway, but this year's event — which features the official motto, Share the Dream — could also be dubbed the "Progressive Games."

For the first time at a Commonwealth Games, men and women will compete for the same amount of medals. That's not only a first at this event, it's also the first time a major multi-sport event.

There are 133 women's and men's events each, plus nine mixed or open events in the east Australian city of Gold Coast, and that change is not lost on Canadian diving star Meaghan Benfeito.

The defending Games champion led the 283-member Canadian contingent — with more than half the team comprised of women — into Carrara Stadium on Wednesday. While the number of medals available to women in her sport won't change, she believes it's a clear message about the importance of women's sport.

"I think also being a woman in sports, and the fact there's just as many medals is something that's really good for women," Benfeito said. "We are just as strong and just as capable as the men to win as many medals and try to perform at our best, so I think that's cool.

"It's fun to be able to have that many medals that we can fight for."

Canadian chef de mission Claire Carver-Dias, a two-time Commonwealth Games champion and Olympic medallist in synchronized swimming, says it sends an important message that "female sport is as important as male sport."

The Commonwealth Games are also the only major multi-sport international Games to feature para-sport competition as part of the official program. That means all of Canada's athletes get to live together in the athletes' village and support one another during the Games.

"I think it's really cool that we're at the same Games as Paralympians because I think they're just as strong, if not even stronger," said Benfeito, 29, from Montreal.

Carver-Dias says its these principles that should make these Games a template for other events, such as the Olympics.

"[The Commonwealth Games are] a movement that lives its values: destiny, equality, and humanity, [and] it's a fully integrated para and able-bodied event, and it's first major games to have a truth and reconciliation action plan," said the 40-year-old, who won bronze at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. "I think they're actually a role model for other major Games on how to do a Games well, on how to live your values."

Athletes winning gold medals at 13-years-old? The Queen missing royal engagements to watch weightlifting? These are just some of the top moments that have happened since the first British Empire Games were held in Hamilton, Canada in 1930. 2:48

Canadian racewalker Evan Dunfee said sporting events like the Commonwealth Games are more than medal counts. It's about building up communities.

"Going towards gender equality is an absolute must. Every sport should be doing it," said Dunfee, 27, from Richmond, B.C. "My mindset has definitely shifted away from 'the medal means everything' towards getting more out of sport and see where the bigger picture is with sport.

"The Gold Coast is doing a great cultural side of things as well.  They've put on a great cultural festival [with] Aboriginal cultural events, really trying to tie in reconciliation all under one event. That's a good direction to go in the future — move away from this idea of medal count and medal tally and look more at the human aspect and what the community gets out of it.

"[That's] a good example for future Games to lead by."

With the opening ceremony over, the Games get underway with competition starting Thursday in the Gold Coast.

Canadian swimming superstars Penny Oleksiak and Taylor Ruck will get their first taste of Commonwealth Games competition and, along with the Canadian women's track cycling team, could capture the country's first medals in the Gold Coast.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.