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2020: A Year in Review for Commonwealth Games Australia

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It has been a year like no other for Australian sport.

After horrific bushfires destroyed many community sport clubs and facilities during Summer, Commonwealth Games Australia (CGA) pledged $25,000 to the Red Cross Bushfire Appeal, along with a commitment to join national sporting partners in a program of activities to assist with the recovery in affected areas.

CGA President Ben Houston said the widespread devastation of the fires in many parts of Australia had impacted many sporting clubs and athletes from within the Commonwealth Games community.

“The devastating fires will have a long-lasting impact on many communities and along with a range of organisations from the Australian sporting fraternity Commonwealth Games Australia is ready to provide whatever assistance we can to help the recovery process,” Houston said.

March brought  better news, when inspired by a swashbuckling 75 runs by player of the match Alyssa Healy  and an unbeaten knock of 78 runs by player of the tournament Beth Mooney, Australia claimed back-to-back T20 World Cup crowns.

The final was a brilliant celebration on International Women’s Day and a display of what will come in Birmingham in 2022 when women’s T20 cricket makes its Commonwealth Games debut.

 

But just one day after the tremendous high and celebration of sport, the sporting world plunged into an abyss when the global COVID-19 pandemic hit  Australian shores brining an immediate halt to sport around the country, with the Australian F1 Grand Prix the first of almost every major sporting event on these shores to face cancelation.

The pandemic resulted in a virtual announcement and induction for six budding young Para-sport athletes who were named as recipients of the 2020 Kurt Fearnley Scholarship.

A scholarship which is a joint initiative from Commonwealth Games Australia and the Carbine Club of NSW to support young Para-sport athletes based in NSW, with training support from the New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) and mentoring by two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist Kurt Fearnley AO.

A mentorship which began immediately when the Australian sporting legend imparted his wisdom to the incoming class and encouraged them to be resilient during the uncertain times ahead.

 

Those uncertain times climaxed in March with the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics until July 2021, a schedule change which has resulted in what Australian Commonwealth Games team chef de mission Petria Thomas believes will be a “bumper year of sport”.

While the future remained uncertain, it was timely to look back on a golden period in Australian sport to when Australia regained its place as the dominant nation in the Commonwealth with a string of stirring performances at the Edinburgh Games of 1970.

A virtual exhibition celebrated the golden anniversary of the Games which saw the green and gold top the medal tally with 82 medals from their 107 athletes, including 36 gold, 24 silver and 22 bronze medals.

 

On the back of the golden memories, it was time to step back to present with the two years to go until Birmingham 2022 Games milestone, the perfect backdrop for the announcement of five-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist Anna Meares as a member of the 2022 Australian Team Executive.

As the pandemic continued to wreak havoc on domestic competitions, seven Australian athletes flew the coup from Australia to line up in the opening Diamond League athletics event of the year in Monaco.

Gold Coast team members Genevieve and Ryan Gregson (5,000m and 1500m), Stewart McSweyn (5,000m) and Joseph Deng (800m) were joined by rising stars Jessica Hull (5,000m), Matthew Ramsden (5,000m pacemaker) and Peter Bol (800m) on the start list at the first major athletics event in Europe since the pandemic began in March.

 

While at home, Commonwealth Games Australia celebrated the 90th anniversary of the inaugural Empire Games held in the Canadian city of Hamilton, in 1930.

It was important that the first edition was a success to ensure the future of the Games, especially since there were financial pressures across the globe due to the Great Depression.

But the Games were a success, and in October CGA marked the 10-year anniversary of the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games, a landmark moment of not only the Commonwealth Sport movement but also a significant period in Australia’s history at the Games.

The celebrations continued in October when sports and athletes received a welcome boost with confirmation that Australian Institute of Sport funding for sports has been confirmed through to the end of June 2022.

In our continued celebrations of NAIDOC Week 2020, Commonwealth Games Australia advised that applications for the Ron Clarke Griffith Futures Scholarship were now open ahead of trimester 1, 2021.

The scholarship named in honour for one of Australia’s greatest middle distance runners, Ron Clarke AO MBE, is a partnership between Commonwealth Games Australia and Griffith University designed to support two young indigenous student athletes to study at Griffith University.

November saw more history made, when the first virtual Commonwealth Games Australia Annual General Meeting in the 91-year history of the organisation took place as Australian sport looks towards a recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

And at the AGM, we mourned the passing and remembered those members of the Commonwealth Games Australia family who left us in the last twelve months.

 

International Day of People with Disability was marked by the announcement by the e Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Paralympics Australia to support the next generation of Paralympic champions by providing access to world-leaning mental health and wellbeing services.

And in December five Commonwealth Games Australia alumni members received one of top honours in Australian sport by being inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

As the calendar flips to December, the sports community finally inches closer to the end of a horror year unlike any other.

Sadly some athletes athletes such as Hockeyroos veterans Jodie Kenny and Karri McMahon and cycling star Steph Morton have called time on their careers in recent weeks, citing the uncertainties which still exist in the new COVID-19 world as a reason to end their career, a decision Thomas believes could not have come easily for them.

 

Athletes have been tested in new ways being away from the sports they love, and dealing with the many challenges they have faced, but Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Australian Team Chef de Mission Petria Thomas OAM believes the challenging period of 2020 could well result in exciting times in 2021 and beyond.

Planning for anything at the moment is really challenging… we are doing well in Australia with the virus, but the rest of the world is a different story,” Thomas said.

“Certainly, it’s disappointing that some athletes who would have been priming themselves perhaps to have their last competition in Tokyo this year have decided not to hold on for another year.

“But I understand and respect that decision because the level required to be going to an Olympics, Paralympics or Commonwealth Games, you need to commit yourself 100%, so if you can’t do that then you’re selling yourself short to push on.

“But in saying that the postponement of the Games also gives those who are still targeting Tokyo and beyond that extra time to prepare and deal with any injuries or any other issues… that’s certainly a positive that the athletes can take from 2020, that they have got extra preparation time.”

With less than 600 days until the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Thomas believes the period between Tokyo and Birmingham is going to be “a bumper year of sport” and is excited by what is ahead.

“It is hard to believe we are at the end of 2020, already… I hope fingers crossed… I think everyone will have their fingers crossed… that 2021 will be a more positive year for us all and for the world as a whole,” Thomas said.

“We can only plan for what we know at this stage, but we are being told that Tokyo is going ahead and followed by Birmingham a year or so later, that’s really exciting and something to look forward to.

“The resilience that has been built up by athletes and coaches and administrators this year by dealing with such uncertainty I think leaves us all in good stead heading into the future.”

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