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New Military Coins from The Royal Mint
ENGRAVED IN HISTORY
New Military Coins from The Royal Mint
ENGRAVED IN HISTORY

The History of the Commonwealth Games

The History of the Commonwealth Games

With a storied history that dates back almost a century, the Commonwealth Games is one of the most established, prestigious and highly anticipated sporting events in the world. Taking place every four years, the Commonwealth Games isn’t just a sporting spectacle that features some of the greatest athletes on Earth – it’s also a celebration of international relations through the universal language of sport.

The Commonwealth Games is widely considered one of the biggest multi-sport events in the world, second only to the Olympic Games, and today the competition attracts elite athletes from 72 nations and territories around the world. Whilst traditional sporting powerhouses like the United States are exempt from the competition due to their non-affiliation with the Commonwealth of Nations, it doesn’t take anything away from the sheer magnitude of this global event or the incredible calibre of competition.

The Commonwealth Games is a true global platform for athletes to prove their greatness and one of the most exciting fixtures in the sporting calendar. As a result, the Games has featured a myriad of sporting legends over the years, ranging from track icons such as Roger Bannister and Kelly Holmes to superstars of sports outside of track and field, including the likes of Lennox Lewis and Jonah Lomu.

Since its inception back in 1930, the Games has emanated from just nine different countries – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Malaysia and India, in addition to England, Scotland and Wales. Despite being represented at every Games except the 1954 event, Northern Ireland is currently the only country in the United Kingdom that hasn’t hosted the Games whereas Australia has played host a record five times, which is more than any other nation.

Interestingly, whilst the Commonwealth Games may be a wholly international affair, the event does have notable historical links to the United Kingdom and the 2022 event sees the Games return to England for the first time in 20 years. Whilst England has only hosted the event on three occasions, the Inter-Empire Championships that took place in London in 1911 – as part of the Festival of Empire celebrations – heavily influenced the Games we know today. The forerunner event only featured four nations – the UK, South Africa, Canada and Australasia, which comprised a combined team of athletes hailing from both New Zealand and Australia. Featuring running events, swimming contests and boxing/wrestling matches, the original Inter-Empire Championships were eventually won by Canada, who picked up the coveted silver cup donated and presented by Lord Lonsdale.

The influence of the original Inter-Empire Championships eventually led to introduction of what we now know as the Commonwealth Games. First introduced in 1930 during the age of the British Empire as the Empire Games, the name of the event reflected the countries that took part in the inaugural competition. Held in Hamilton, Ontario, over the course of a single week in August, it featured just eleven nations, which included England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. England topped the overall table with 61 medals in total, 25 of which were Gold. Fittingly, the second instalment of the Games would take place in England four years later.

The “British Empire Games” title remained for the first four Commonwealth Games but in 1954, it became known as the British Empire and Commonwealth Games. In 1970, this title changed once more and became the British Commonwealth Games before the introduction of the Commonwealth Games title we know today. Today’s Games are a reflection of modern society, with more than 72 nations and territories taking part. The organisers of Birmingham 2022 have made a conscious effort to focus on that ethos and have placed a strong emphasis on equality, inclusion and fair representation for all races and genders. As ‘The City of a Thousand Trades’ looks to become the city of 4,500 athletes this summer and as only the third Commonwealth Games to be held in England, the Birmingham 2022 team will be keen to make an impact and the event is already shaping up to one for the ages, comprising more than 280 events.

From a numismatic perspective, The Royal Mint has a long association with the Commonwealth Games, particularly those that have taken place on British soil. In fact, we have produced commemorative coins for numerous Commonwealth Games events as far back as the Games held in Edinburgh in 1986. Since then, we have celebrated every Commonwealth Games competition held in the UK – Manchester 2002, Glasgow 2014 and now Birmingham 2022 – by issuing a commemorative coin in their honour. Whilst the coins for the Games in Edinburgh and Manchester both had a denomination of £2, a 50p coin commemorated the Glasgow 2014 event. Often favoured for commemorative designs, this denomination is also the one that portrays the design chosen to mark Birmingham 2022.

Due in no small part to its prominence in the collecting community, in terms of collectability, the Manchester 2002 coin is arguably the most widely known Commonwealth Games coin prior to this year’s release. Over the last 20 years, the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games coin has proved to be one of particular interest to numismatists, as we issued four editions of the coin. Each version was identical except for one very subtle difference as each edition featured one of the flags of the UK’s home nations. Due to its low mintage of the Northern Ireland edition, collectors are particularly interested in the Northern Ireland edition of the coin.

The coin released for the Edinburgh 1986 Commonwealth Games is also a historic piece as it holds the distinction of being the first decimal UK £2 coin ever made. What’s more, it was also the first UK coin to commemorate a sporting event, which makes it a significant coin in our history, as well as a notable event in British sport. With such a rich and intertwined history, our partnership with the Commonwealth Games has undoubtedly gone from strength to strength over the last 36 years and our design for Birmingham 2022 is one of five commemorative coins specially selected for inclusion in the 2022 Annual Sets. Whilst only time will tell where the next UK edition of the Commonwealth Games will take place, we will surely be celebrating the next group of Commonwealth champions in the making.

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