Apart from the Games, what does the Commonwealth do?

The group of nations was formed officially in 1949

Thousands of the world’s top athletes began arriving in Glasgow on Monday, ahead of the start of the 20th Commonwealth Games.

Dubbed the ‘friendly games’, more than 4,500 sports men and women will compete in events across 17 sports from 24 July to 3 August.

Before Wednesday’s ceremony which will kick off the event, we answer what the Commonwealth is, and what it does.

What is the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth is a voluntary intergovernmental association of 53 member states, almost all of which were formerly ruled by Britain - directly or indirectly. Therefore, the group encompasses nations from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the Pacific.

The states involved agree to share a common set of values and ideals, and acknowledge a shared history and traditional trade links.

What is its history?

Its name dates back to the 19th century, when in 1884 the British Empire was first described as the ‘Commonwealth of Nations’ by British Liberal politician Lord Roseberry in Adelaide, Australia during a famous speech.

As states under British rule gained independence at the start of the twentieth century, they became self-governing while remaining in the Commonwealth and retaining Britain’s monarch as Head of State.

A sculpture known as 'the Big G' is pictured in Glasgow in Scotland, on July 21, 2014, ahead of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The Commonwealth Games begin in Glasgow on July 23, 2014. A sculpture known as 'the Big G' is pictured in Glasgow in Scotland. The Commonwealth Games begin in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Read more: Katarina Johnson-Thompson will not take part
Will the Scottish referendum be the 'elephant in the stadium'?
Laura Trott: ‘I live a normal life. We walk the dogs, see his family...’

While the Statute of Westminster recognised Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa as independent states in 1931, the modern Commonwealth was established in 1949 with the London Declaration.

This saw leaders agree to recognise they were "free and equal members of the Commonwealth of Nations" with the common goals of "freely co-operating in the pursuit of peace, liberty and progress."

These values are enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter and promoted by the Commonwealth Games.

The Declaration also meant member states could hold different constitutions, for example: India and South Africa are republics with a president as Head of State, while the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Barbados recognise Queen Elizabeth II as their Sovereign. But regardless of constitution, Queen Elizabeth II is recognised as the Head of the Commonwealth.

The group's central institution is the Commonwealth Secretariat. This body helps to organise meetings between member states, and offers advice on implementing policy, among other things.

What does it do?

Leaders of the Commonwealth meet every two years to at the Heads of Government Meeting, where they discuss issues of mutual concern and agree on collective policies and initiatives.

But unlike the United Nations, the Commonwealth cannot impose sanctions on member states, arguably making it less powerful.

In theory, as all members have an equal say, regardless of size or economic stature, the group gives smaller states a voice in international politics and influence in diplomatic circles they might not otherwise have.

However, the Commonwealth has been accused of failing to see its members uphold its basic principles.

In 2002, Zimbabwe was suspended for a year after supporters of President Robert Mugabe used violence to help him win an election. A year later, Mugabe withdrew from the coaliton.

Last year, the Gambia withdrew from the Commonwealth, accusing Britain of supporting his political opponents and calling the organisation a "neo-colonial institution."

News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
People walk through Autumn leaves in St James's Park yesterday
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits