A blog by Layne Robinson, Head of the Commonwealth Social Policy Division
The atmosphere in Trinidad and Tobago was charged with anticipation and excitement when I landed to attend the Commonwealth Youth Games. As I stepped onto the Caribbean Island that had given birth to calypso and the steelpan, what immediately struck me was the breathtaking diversity that the Games had brought to the island. Every region was represented, with some young people travelling from across the other side of the world to participate. Some had left their homes for the first time. What they all had in common was an opportunity to witness and take part in a momentous event that could change their lives and prospects.
This year’s Games are significant for several reasons. First, they landed in our Year of Youth, with 2023 declared by leaders as a year dedicated to youth-led action for sustainable and inclusive development. They are also marked, almost to the day, the 50th anniversary of the Commonwealth Youth Programme, which was launched at the beginning of August 1973.
Notably, this is the first Commonwealth Youth Games since the global pandemic. It is, therefore, a testimony of the Commonwealth’s resilience and evidence of the power of the strong collaboration between our 56 countries and overseas territories. Most importantly, it is a true expression of the impressive talent of our youth.
Speaking amidst the dazzling pageantry of the opening ceremony, Dame Louise Martin, President of the Commonwealth Games, told athletes: “I truly hope you seize the moment and enjoy this Caribbean carnival of inspiring competition, personal development and global friendship.
“You are diverse, unique and equal members of one big sporting family and especially in this Commonwealth Year of Youth – we will celebrate each and every one of you.”
During the Games, young athletes participated in Aquatics (Swimming), Athletics, Cycling (Road Race, Time Trial, and Track) and Triathlon, as well as Rugby Sevens, Beach Volleyball and Netball. There was also a fully integrated Para-Athletics programme.
But this was also an important opportunity for the Commonwealth Secretariat to advance a critical aspect of its programme – using sport to help us accelerate progress on our sustainable development goals. Led by Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, our team of Commonwealth experts met with ministers, government representatives, athletes and youth leaders. The meetings and workshops included a session on international safeguards for children in sports, and athlete impact labs, which are focused on informing athletes about their rights and offering them the opportunity to recommend and shape policy in the industry.
Arriving in Trinidad and Tobago, the Secretary-General reiterated the importance of the Games. She said: “Sport is one of the things that brings us together and it can be a catalyst to transform people and society. I look forward to seeing the next generation of sporting stars that will no doubt shine this week in Trinidad and Tobago.
“I know the tremendous amount of work and resources goes into events of this nature, and I thank all those who have contributed for making the investment in the Commonwealth Youth Games. From the President of the Republic, the Ministers involved, the steering committee, the volunteers, the policemen directing traffic, to the man selling doubles, we are tremendously grateful to you all for hosting the Commonwealth.
“I am pleased to hear that flights have been full, hotel rooms are booked, and I hear that people are already enjoying the food and culture that these twin islands have to offer as well as the sport.
“I also congratulate the Commonwealth Games Federation, its President Dame Louise Martin and her team, who have been working collaboratively with their amazing local partners.”