AUSTRALIA’S chef de mission Steve Moneghetti says the Commonwealth Games are getting stronger and more popular than Australians might realise.
The Ballarat Olympian and marathon legend works right in the Games’ nerve centre with athletes, organisers and the public face for the media, beaming the Australian camp message back home.
He knows the Commonwealth Games inside-out both as an athlete – with a collection of medals from four consecutive Games, Edinburgh (1986) to Kuala Lumpur (1998) – to his post-career roles as athlete liaison officer in Manchester (2002), mayor of the athletes village in Melbourne four years later and as chef de mission, a role he has held since Delhi (2010).
Moneghetti says the Games’ popularity is on a definite upward curve, especially with our own popular Gold Coast location next in line.
For our athletes, he says, it is a chance to be a member of a huge multi-sport Australian team, rather than an Australian team competing overseas.
“Four or five countries seem to dominate, but every country feels part of the Games. For many, the Games is a rite of passage, one chance to get together and feel a genuine part of the Commonwealth, and I think we (as Australians) downplay that,” Moneghetti said.
“There are a lot of world championships in sport but less major multi-sport events ... for a lot of sports, like squash, lawn bowls and netball, this is their pinnacle. They are not Olympic sports.”
Moneghetti said the “friendly games” tag was fitting. Sharing a common language helped foster a great bond and spirit with other athletes about the village and events.
Traditional world powerhouses China, the United States, and Russia might be missing from action but competition was just as fierce, with most countries focused on showcasing their prowess in pet disciplines – Jamaica in the sprints, Kenya in long distance running, New Zealand and South Africa in rugby sevens or India in weightlifting and hockey.
Then there is regional pride.
Moneghetti said he could only imagine the added emotion for a Scot or Welshman, used to competing under the Union Jack, when their flag was raised.
But England alone would be unbelievable tough to beat.
The English are on a roll and hungry to build on the success of the London Olympics two years ago. Moneghetti has also watched the London Games’ trend continue into Glasgow infrastructure, volunteer training and attitude through his routine inspections as Games planning panned out.
That is how he knows this will be a fantastic Games.
“The Scottish are very excited and the friendliness over there has been paramount,” Moneghetti said.
“A lot of the infrastructure was finished in January and the venues are really practical, like organising football fields to turn into rugby fields and indoor stadiums able to host judo and gymnastics.
“In Delhi, some of the venues were far too big for the sports and crowds they were hosting.
“Glasgow is definitely user-friendly – the cycling velodrome is just fantastic and the hockey centre is a brand-new modern facility.”
Moneghetti aims to try to visit each and every venue when Australian athletes will be in action.
There is no job description or blue print for his volunteer role.
So, Moneghetti draws on his experience and Games knowledge to give his all to more than 600 Australian athletes and officials, national governing bodies and the Australian public to which he represents.
He will be stretched as far as Edinburgh for diving events to shooting events in Carnoustie, about four hours from Glasgow on Scotland’s rugged north-east coast.
“I remember watching archery in Delhi and there was a shoot-off for the gold medal against India and one of my phones – I carry two – was ringing with an issue in the village. I have to be aware of everything all at once,” Moneghetti said.
“I have a genuine interest in Ballarat athletes ... and, of course, the marathon because I still run a lot of races and events with a lot of the runners.
“I want to be approachable to all Australian athletes though and make sure they know who I am and hopefully know I can allow a bit of empathy.”
Moneghetti is busy settling Australian teams into Glasgow and the athletes’ village on the banks of the River Clyde.
Once the Games open on Wednesday, each day will start with a meeting with representatives from all Australian team, media call, and a meeting with all 71 chefs across issues from transport to accommodation to food.
Then Moneghetti will trek out to watch events, fixing problems and debriefing as he goes.
Hockey – thanks to our world champion men and silver medal winning women – is his tip for Australian dominance and he suggested to keep an eye on our swimmers, who he tips will be fired up in the wake of lacklustre work in the pool at the London Olympics.
Crazy as his schedule may sound, Moneghetti says he is just delighted to still be involved in the Commonwealth Games, which played a huge role in his own development as an athlete.