The surprise decision of Commonwealth Games organisers to overlook athletes at the closing ceremony has sparked a mass walkout and triggered enormous backlash from fans.
While the 21st edition of the Games was regarded as a success, the finale left a sour taste in the mouths of many after the stars of the show, the athletes themselves, were largely ignored.
The Seven Network explained on Sunday that it was a decision of the organising committee and the host broadcasters to not include athletes walking into the stadium as part of the ceremony, robbing flagbearers – in Australia’s case, the retiring Kurt Fearnley – of a deserved moment in the spotlight.
It also denied athletes the chance to celebrate their achievements for one last time, with the sportsmen and women essentially relegated to members of the crowd as a long list of Australian musicians played through the evening.
Through either anger at not being involved, or sheer boredom at what was truly a lacklustre show, most athletes left during the ceremony.
Former swimmer and Seven host Johanna Griggs pulled no punches in her assessment of the ceremony.
“We’re the Australian rights holder so we can only show the pictures that are provided by the actual host broadcasters,” she explained.
“They made the decision not to have the athletes enter the stadium. They made the decision not to show the flagbearers.
— 7CommGames (@7CommGames) April 15, 2018
“And I am furious. We are actually wrecking a tradition that is so important … you want to see the athletes come and you want to see them jumping in front of a camera.
“There are no athletes in here and I’ve never seen a stadium so empty halfway through a ceremony.”
Griggs later added that the decision was “so wrong” while her co-host Basil Zempilas said speeches from dignitaries were “way too long” and “dare I say, a little self-indulgent”.
Gold Coast Commonwealth Games chairman Peter Beattie tweeted an apology for the ceremony on morning.
“The speeches were too many and too long. I was part of that and I acknowledge it. Again, we got that wrong,” he wrote.
“It is very simple. I should not have spoken.
The former Queensland premier said the decision not to opt for the traditional parade of athletes was made for the “welfare of the athletes”.
This decision to bring the athletes into the stadium before the broadcast was operationally driven given there were restrictions on being able to keep the athletes waiting in comfort. We were driven by the welfare of athletes #gc2018
— Peter Beattie (@SmartState1) April 15, 2018
“We wanted athletes to be part of, and enjoy, the closing ceremony. However, having them come in to the stadium in the pre-show meant the TV audience were not able to see the athletes enter the stadium, alongside flag bearers. We got that wrong.”
What was meant to be a celebration of the Games started with many sections of the crowd half-full.
And athletes clearly had an indication of what was to come, with Australian basketballer Alice Kunek telling News Corp after just 10 minutes that she was leaving.
“We’re going back to the village. It’s a bit boring,” she said.
Several Australian athletes left early and were joined by competitors from other nations.
On a hot Gold Coast night, those in attendance were treated to a duet by Amy Shark and Archie Roach, a ‘poetry slam rap’ and performances from the likes of Ricki-Lee Coulter, Anthony Callea, Yothu Yindi and Guy Sebastian.
The 15,000 volunteers – who wore ever-present smiles and were one of the highlights of the Games – enjoyed their time in the sun and even Usain Bolt made an appearance.
After hugging Callea, Bolt bizarrely pretended he was ‘on the decks’ but his supposed DJ cameo did not fool anybody.
Given Bolt was available to feature at the ceremony, the use of him in such a odd and brief role spoke volumes about the evening.
Gold Coast Commonwealth Games chairman Peter Beattie hailed the event as “fantastic”.
“We’ve brought meaning to the definition of ‘The Friendly Games’,” he said.
He said the Games would be “remembered for the first time there were equal medal events for women and men” and that they saw “the full and authentic integration of para-athletes into the Games program”.
It was hard to argue with him on either point.
New Zealand’s David Liti was given the David Dickson award for being the outstanding athlete of the Games before Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, infamously snubbed from a speaking role at the opening ceremony, gave a speech that was almost instantly forgotten.
Then it was time for the handover to Birmingham, hosts of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, and a lengthy musical finish to the evening.
Not that there were many athletes to watch it.
It was a sad way for the Games to end, after 11 days of glorious moments not limited to Fearnley’s gold in his last race for Australia, Mitch Larkin’s five golds in the pool, the incredible backstories behind the successes of Steele von Hoff and Anja Stridsman, the emergence of 17-year-old swimming star Ariarne Titmus and our superb cycling effort.