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Commonwealth: On common ground?

As the Commonwealth prepares to take centre stage, Geographical investigates exactly how relevant the organisation is in the 21st century, and what role it may perform in an increasingly uncertain future

April is a big month for the 53 nations and nearly two-and-a-half billion people that make up the Commonwealth. First, Australia’s Gold Coast will kick start the 21st iteration of the Commonwealth Games, as more than 6,000 athletes and team officials go head-to-head, with hundreds of prestigious medals at stake. Then, once the Games come to a close, Commonwealth world leaders will convene in London for the latest Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the organisation’s biennial opportunity to sit down and discuss its most pressing issues.

For many onlookers, this may well include a pondering of what exactly the point of all this is. How relevant is an eclectic membership club such as the Commonwealth in the 21st century? Is it a genuinely successful positive legacy of the British Empire (after all, the Commonwealth Games were once called the ‘British Empire Games’) or an attempt to whitewash the past? Do outspoken critics who rage against the organisation with cries of neo-colonialism deserve any sympathy for their accusations? Or could it in fact be the exact opposite, a democratic, even deliberately anti-colonial entity?

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