Commonwealth Games: where taking part doesn't count

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'PEOPLE often ask what the point of the Commonwealth Games is,' says the general secretary of the Right Honourable Lapsang 'Jim' Gymkhana, 'and I can see their point. What is the idea of having yet another meaningless contest between contestants who may well have met the week before and the week before that? Mark you, I sometimes wonder what the point of the Olympic Games is, now that we have the World Championships, and I sometimes wonder what the point of the World Championships is now that everyone takes drugs, and sometimes I wonder what the point of anything is, the way the world in going. But then I think to myself - do not think like that] You are the Right Honourable Lapsang Gymkhana, known to the world as Jim, and you have a plum job explaining the Commonwealth Games, and you get a lot of free travel and many, many perks, so cheer up] It's a cushy billet and no mistake.'

So is that the point of the Commonwealth Games? To give him a cushy billet?

'By no means. That is certainly a vital element, but there is more to the Commonwealth Games than that. Our proudest boast is that the Commonwealth actually has sports and events which no other organisation in the world can offer.'

Really? Such as?

'Well, it's hard to know where to begin, but pride of place I suppose must go to all the events grouped under 'mentally impaired diplomacy'. All round the world, under the umbrella of the Commonwealth, there are elderly politicians who are no longer really capable of running their own countries. In most cases they still are running their own countries, so naturally they expect to be given things to do and places to go on the international scene. At Commonwealth get-togethers they get the chance to meet other leaders who are no longer capable of running their country and they have discussions on how not to run your country, how not to have elections, the most economical way to lock up opponents, and so on.'

What other Commonwealth specialities would he point to with pride?

'Well, the triple event is always one of my favourites.'

Running, jumping and hopping?

'No, bowing, scraping and having a chinwag with the Queen. The Queen, as titular head of the Commonwealth, likes to turn up to these events, because she really believes in the importance of the Commonwealth in world politics. Quite honestly, I think she would do well in the 'visually impaired diplomacy' events] At any rate, we all deeply respect her belief in the Commonwealth, and there is a special event at which our efforts to ingratiate ourselves with Her Majesty are judged by a panel of media people from round the world. Marks are given for how long you talk to the woman, how many smiles you get from her, and also deducted if, for instance, you only get to talk to the Duke of Edinburgh.'

Why do countries actually want to belong to the Commonwealth? What is in it for them?

'Well, I would have thought that was obvious. People want to be in the Commonwealth because it is nice to belong to an exclusive club. There is no kudos in belonging to the United Nations, which anyone can join. There is not a lot of kudos in belonging to a club which is so small that nobody can join, like Efta - did you know that if the Scandinavian countries leave Efta to join the EU, there will only be two members left? Iceland and Liechtenstein? And can you imagine what the Efta Games would be like?' The Right Honourable Lapsang 'Jim' Gymkhana rocks with silent laughter.

'No, my friend, the Commonwealth is the right size now, the same size in international terms as the Grouchy Club.'

You mean the Groucho Club?

'No, my friend, I do not mean the Groucho Club, your club in London named after the most acerbic of the Marx brothers. I am talking of the Grouchy Club in Paris, named after the most unsuccessful of Napoleon's generals, so unsuccessful that he turned up at the battle of Waterloo with a fresh French army, the day after the battle was fought]'

But what has all this got to do with anything?

'Nothing,' says 'Jim'. 'But that is our speciality in the Commonwealth. The important thing is not to win, or even take part, but to decide the date of the next party. We are the last refuge of inspired irrelevance to the world. We can take on all comers]'