2022 Commonwealth Games are a Metaphor for the ‘Empire’
BIRMINGHAM’S 2022 Commonwealth Games are a “metaphor for empire” and a reminder of Britain’s “bloody past” claim campaigners.
One campaigner even called for it to be rebranded the ‘Plantation Games’ following the Black Lives Matter protests.
The Commonwealth itself is a voluntary association of 54 countries including former British colonies, established in 1931. The Queen is the head of the group as well as head of state of 16 Commonwealth countries.
But critics say it allows the UK to exploit the resources of member states and to block calls for reparations for slavery.
Kehinde Andrews, Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University, said: “It should be a time to revisit this, because the Commonwealth is all about Britain trying to maintain some kind of symbolic link back to its imperial past. The empire is still there in some ways.
“The Commonwealth is so problematic. The city has embraced it because it is money, which is quite a good metaphor, because empire is one of the things that built Birmingham. We shouldn’t be surprised the city embraced it.” Some argue the Commonwealth helps uphold human rights across the globe.
But Prof Andrews said: “That’s white saviour mentality, white man’s guilt. It’s an anachronism which should have gone a long time ago.
“I don’t think anyone has been that critical of Birmingham 2022. But the impact it is having isn’t good either – look at development planning in the city and the gentrification of the inner city area.
“I think the event is seen as a nuisance [by students and colleagues]. There’s a genuine apathy otherwise. I don’t know anyone who is positive.
“What we are seeing is token gestures. Really thinking about the Games, which are going to bring investment, is uncomfortable.”
Saima Razzaq, owner of floating hotel business Boatel Birmingham and a community activist, said: “This is an opportunity for an honest representation of colonialism in respect of the diversity of the city.
“At the same time, we need to look at statues and building names steeped in colonial past. This is an opportunity for us to rise and rise together.”
Ms Razzaq said the games were “absolutely” a symbol of empire and pointed out the original name for the event was the British Empire Games.
Referring to reports showing the lack of diversity among the event’s leadership, she said there could be unconscious bias in decision-making. She said: “I think the Commonwealth is a PR stunt and the money wasted on this could be put into dealing with poverty or homelessness. We are spending millions on this event which is steeped in colonialism.”
Aftab Rahman is founding director of Legacy WM, a charity based in Handsworth which runs community projects. Mr Rahman, who previously worked in the Government Office for the West Midlands (GOWM), said: “The games are flying a flag for the Commonwealth really, harking back to Britain’s former glory. Coming to Birmingham, it’s a great opportunity for the city.”
But he said the games are a “reminder” of atrocities such as the deaths of three million people in Bengal in the 1940s which has been attributed in studies to Winston Churchill’s decision to continue exporting rice from the region.
Mr Rahman said: “It harks back to a bloody past. It’s ravaged with hate and blood and death and all of these things. It’s never addressed properly.
“In history books, the British Empire is presented as a golden age. It was golden for the British people but not for those who were ruled.”
He said it was “unforgivable” that 19 out of 20 people leading the games are white, while other city institutions’ lack of diversity has also recently been highlighted.
Meanwhile, city campaigner Desmond Jaddoo called for the games to be renamed the Plantation Games following the row.
Promoters of the £778 million event say the games will boost the regional economy by £1 billion, and create 4,000 jobs per year in the region up until 2022. The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) recently published an open letter in response to the Black Lives Matter movement as well as an update on its transformation strategy.
A CGF spokesperson said: “Over the past decade the Commonwealth Games and Commonwealth Sport have transformed into a movement representing social change and seeking to build peaceful, sustainable and prosperous communities across the Commonwealth. The CGF and organisers have sought to address issues surrounding colonial injustice, truth and reconciliation, human rights and broader issues addressing inequality”.
Below follows an open letter from Business, Local Community and City leaders regarding to the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee 2022 regarding the issues of perceived institutionalised racism and representational parity.
It’s hard to imagine the monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Thailand selling souvenir tchotchkes in quite the same way.