The Commonwealth

Friendly games? Australia has won the most medals at the Commonwealth Games — taking home 198 in total.

Commonwealth country Barbados has announced that it will remove the Queen as its head of state. From next year, it will become a republic. But what does this mean for the Commonwealth?

  • What is the Commonwealth?

    It is a group of 54 countries from all over the world. There are Commonwealth countries in the Pacific, Africa, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. The countries vary hugely, but they are united by the English language. The largest member state is India, with a population of 1.37 billion people. Meanwhile, the smallest is an island in the Pacific called Nauru: only 10,000 people live there.

    The Commonwealth covers 21% of the world, and it is home to two billion people — that’s one in every three people on the planet.

  • When was it set up?

    Britain once governed most of the countries in the Commonwealth as part of the British Empire. After they became independent, many countries became part of a “family” of nations that worked together to help one another. The first countries to join were Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.

  • What has it got to do with the Queen?

    When the first countries formed the Commonwealth in 1926, they kept the British King or Queen as their head of state. But when India joined in 1947, it wanted to be free of British rule. So, the modern Commonwealth was born.

    Now, most member states have no connection to the British monarchy. Barbados is one of just 15 countries still technically ruled by the Queen. Its leaders think this should change. Next year, they plan to make the country a republic and elect their own head of state. But as for the Commonwealth, Barbados will remain a member.

  • What does the Commonwealth do?

    All of the member states have three main goals: prosperity, peace and democracy.

    Teams from the Commonwealth work all over the world to help protect the environment and help with education. They also support smaller member states and help with money and trade.

  • Who can join?

    Any country! Although the Commonwealth was originally connected to the British Empire, any country is now free to join. In 1990, Namibia became the first country to join that was never under British rule. The most recent state to join was Rwanda in 2009.

    Countries do leave, as well. No country has ever been forced to go, but some are suspended. South Africa’s racist laws led to its leaving the Commonwealth in 1961 because it did not follow the shared goals of the organisation. In 1994, it was allowed to return.

  • What are the Commonwealth games?

    First held in 1930, these take place every four years. They are a celebration of sport and an opportunity to come together. They include athletics, cycling, rugby, gymnastics and even lawn bowls.

    The Commonwealth Games are not a serious competition between countries but a chance to inspire each other — that’s why they are sometimes known as the “friendly games”.

You Decide

  1. Does the world need the Commonwealth?

Activities

  1. Choose one of the countries in the Commonwealth and make a fact file about it. Find out where it is and how many people live there. If you like, have a go at copying the country’s flag, as well.

Word Watch

Independent
To be free from outside control. The countries that were originally in the British Empire are now independent, meaning they can make their own laws and choose their leaders.
Head of state
The person who represents the country. In most countries, the head of state is the president and sometimes leads the government, too. In countries where the Queen is head of state, she is a figurehead. She makes no rules and cannot be involved in governments.
Monarchy
A form of government with a monarch — a King or Queen — at its head.
Republic
A government whose head is an elected or chosen person and not a monarch such as a king or queen.
Prosperity
Being wealthy and successful. The Commonwealth hopes that by sharing a common goal of prosperity, it can help poorer member states to be more prosperous.
Democracy
A form of government in which power rests with the people. The word comes from two Ancient Greek words that together mean “rule of the common people”.
Rwanda
A country in central Africa.
Racist laws
South Africa had a system that split up white and black citizens. Non-white citizens faced huge discrimination. It was known as “Apartheid” which means “apartness” in Afrikaans.
Lawn bowls
A sport played on a grassy court where the objective is to roll balls as close as possible to a target, known as a “jack”.

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