Team SA heads for Glasgow hoping to up its game
In 1891, an Englishman named John Astley Cooper, writing in the Times newspaper, proposed a pan-Brittanic and Anglo-Saxon festival to which athletes from the United States and Great Britain would be invited.
His idea materialised somewhat in 1911 during the Festival of the Empire held in London to celebrate the coronation of King George V.
Teams from Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom competed at an inter-Empire Championship in boxing, wrestling, swimming and athletics.
In 1930, 11 nations participated in the inaugural British Empire Games held in Hamilton, Ontario.
Since then, the Games, later known as the Commonwealth Games, have been held every four years, except in 1942 and 1946 because of World War II.
Seventy-one nations will participate in 261 events in 17 sports in the 20th edition, which takes place in Glasgow from July 23 to August 3.
Women’s boxing and the mixed team relay event in the triathlon will make their Commonwealth Games debut and Glasgow 2014 will also have the largest number of fully integrated para-sport events, with 22 medals in contention in five sports.
South Africa’s team, comprising 155 athletes, left for Scotland on Wednesday. They will feature in 16 sporting codes: aquatics (including para-swimming), athletics (including para-athletics), badminton, boxing, cycling, gymnastics, hockey, judo, lawn bowls, netball, para-powerlifting, rugby sevens, shooting, triathlon, weightlifting and wrestling.
At the last Commonwealth Games, held in New Delhi, South Africa ended fifth on the medals table with 12 gold, 11 silver and 10 bronze medals.
Gideon Sam, the president of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee is hoping for a similar outcome in Glasgow.
He said a “stringent selection policy” had been used and, although he had faith in all the South African athletes, he singled out swimming, athletics, rugby sevens, lawn bowls and wrestling as those with a good potential for medals.
“If the coaches have put in the necessary hard work, we should once again be in the top group of medal winners, just as we have done at previous Games,” he said.
Some of these medals are likely to be won at the Tollcross International Swimming Centre, which has been refurbished for the occasion.
London Olympics gold medallists Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh are part of the squad, as is Roland Schoeman, who has competed in four Olympic Games, and Karin Prinsloo, who is ranked fourth in the Commonwealth in the 200m freestyle.
LJ van Zyl, who won medals in the 2006 and 2010 Commonwealth Games 400m hurdles events and sprinter Simon Magakwe, who set a new South African 100m record of 9.98 seconds earlier this year, will compete in the track and field squad.
The Proteas netball team is also in good form, winning all three games in a three-Test series against Scotland in June. According to Mimi Mthethwa, the president of Netball South Africa, if the players fail to win a medal, they will be looking to at least improve on their number six world ranking.
“Our coach has set herself the target of returning with a medal. But we are in a very difficult group, which also features Australia and England, and it’s not to say we don’t think we can beat them, but we will have to end second in order to contest for a medal,” she said.
“What is crucial is to improve on our ranking. If the team can come back having done so it would be quite an achievement.”