Two years ago this weekend, the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games got underway. As the Commonwealth and the world stands now, it has the feel of a golden age.
Two years on from those blazing days in Queensland, organised sport is in stasis. After an agonised period of reflection, or obfuscation - depending on your point of view - the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has postponed the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games to the summer of 2021.
Even in the short period during which the new dates were being debated, the prospect of holding the Games in spring next year was held out as a possibility, with the IOC President Thomas Bach commenting that a potential new arrangement would "not be restricted to the summer months."
Albeit that that would have meant competitors avoiding the worst of the summer heat - seen, pre-coronavirus, as the most serious problem with which the Tokyo 2020 organisers would have to deal - it now looks hasty and ill-advised.
This is not to condemn Bach; it is simply a measure of how swiftly our perceptions and opinions are being transformed in the wake of the current global pandemic. Even a month ago, who would have predicted that Europe would be in lockdown?
As my colleague Nancy Gillen has argued elsewhere on this site, the uncomfortable truth is that we do not know how - or when - this pandemic is going to play out. And while Tokyo’s beleaguered Games organisers gather themselves to go again, towards a finish line that has shifted 364 days into the future, who is to say whether that will remain its fixed point?
Speaking after the decision to postpone the Games had been announced, Bach commented: “These Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 can be a celebration of humanity, for having overcome this unprecedented crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In this way, the Olympic Flame can really become the light at the end of this dark tunnel the whole world is going through together at this moment, and which we do not know how long it will be."
If there is any justice, Tokyo will - eventually - get to hold an Olympics supercharged by relief and rejoicing. But as Bach himself said, we don’t know how long the tunnel is.
From this point of view, life is more comfortable right now for the organisers of the next Commonwealth Games, due to take place in Birmingham in 2022, than for the organisers of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
Those recent, distant Gold Coast Games offered further evidence of the curious and enduring appeal of an event conceived of and initiated in the midst of a world economic depression.
The 1930 Empire Games, as they were first known, began in Hamilton in Ontario, with the dictum - approved by the Games instigator Bobby Robinson - that, compared to the Olympics, these Games "should be merrier and less stern and will substitute the stimulus of novel adventure for the pressure of international rivalry".
If you are seeking an emblem of contrast between the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games, you need look no further than the Opening Ceremony of the Gold Coast Games.
"Very much connected" was a key phrase in the Queen’s message delivered at that Ceremony.
It soon appeared an apposite phrase too as the Queen's Baton containing the message, for several awkward seconds, refused to yield as the President of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) Louise Martin sought to open it and pass the words of wisdom over to the waiting Prince Charles, standing in for his mother.
"The ancient stories told by the people of Australia tell us that even though we are far away, we are all very much connected," the Prince was eventually able to announce, setting the 21st Commonwealth Games in motion.
One imagines Martin, years from now, describing to a therapist how she has a recurring dream in which she is being watched by millions of people all over the world and looking into the increasingly troubled face of Royalty as she struggles to perform a vital task before waking up and realising it has actually happened…
That said, with chairman of Gold Coast 2018 Peter Beattie almost falling backwards off the dais with laughter, the incident was something of an advert for what was originally known as the "Friendly Games". It is hard to imagine an Olympic faux pas being received in similarly relaxed fashion.
Inevitably, minds went back to the weirdly similar occurrence at the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony in Glasgow four years earlier, when the then-President of the CGF, Prince Imran of Malaysia, managed to cut his thumb open as he struggled for 30 seconds or so to release the Queen’s message from the Baton that had just been passed over to him by Sir Chris Hoy.
The beefy cyclist had attempted to help in the operation as the Prince, who insisted afterwards that he had practised opening the Baton "two or three times", continued not to do the trick.
The Queen gave little away as she awaited - and eventually received - her own message.
"I had a little bit of a problem, there was a little bit of collateral damage," the Prince said at the next day’s media briefing. "I cut my thumb on that wonderful piece of Scottish engineering, but it was my fault. I’m not sure Chris Hoy helped but all’s well that ends well. I raised a laugh."
Nobody would suggest that the event so ably hosted by the Gold Coast two years ago, which will, all being well, arrive in Birmingham two years hence, is uncompetitive.
After all, some of the finest sporting events ever witnessed have taken place within the Commonwealth realm.
At the 1986 Games in Edinburgh, beset as they were by a boycott of African nations and an uncertain financial base, the Royal Commonwealth Pool witnessed an aquatic equivalent of the athletics races at the 1980 Moscow Olympics between British rivals Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett.
Ovett had won the 800 metres title expected to go to Coe, then the holder of the world record, only for Coe to earn the 1500m title that his rival had been favoured to take.
In Edinburgh, the keen rivalry between England’s Adrian Moorhouse and Victor Davis of Canada played out in the same way, as Davis won the 100m breaststroke event thought likely to offer Moorhouse success, and the Englishman responded by winning the 200m breaststroke, an event in which Davis was Olympic champion and world-record holder.
On the track, the Christchurch Games of 1974 offered one of the great athletics races of all time as Tanzania’s Filbert Bayi led from gun to tape to win the 1500m title in a world-record of 3min 32.2sec, taking almost a second off Jim Ryun’s previous mark of 3:33.1 and dragging home runner John Walker inside the old world-best mark in the process.
And going back to this very day on the Gold Coast two years ago - at a Games which, for the first time in the history of major multi-sport events, offered an equal number of medal events for men and women across all sports - Flora Duffy lived up to her billing as world number one in women’s triathlon as she claimed the first gold medal of the Games, and the first Commonwealth gold medal ever for Bermuda.
But those advancing the continuing cause of the Commonwealth Games would argue that they are conducted in a significantly different atmosphere to the Olympics. It is a question of tone.
Perhaps, when we are able to properly celebrate and appreciate the Olympic and Paralympic Games, there will be an alteration of tone there also?
The London 1948 Olympics were the first to be held since the Berlin 1936 Games that Adolf Hitler had attempted to turn into a demonstration of Aryan superiority. The intervening World War had created, for the hosts among others, a society in which food and clothing was still in short supply. But it had also provided a compelling reason to view sport as something that was primarily a matter of enjoyment rather than competition.
At the end of the 1948 Olympics, The Times commented upon the unusual atmosphere of the Games:
"It is necessary to come to a delicate subject, namely the absence of disputes. These, which had been hitherto regarded as inevitable, were few indeed and not to be taken too seriously. One observer saw no single manifestation of discontent.
"When we recall now how cross people can get and how rude they can be to one another over the most trifling points in purely domestic games, there is much cause for congratulation over the general good temper that prevailed."
The article then cited as an example the disqualification of the United States men’s 4x100m relay team from the gold-medal position. Despite crossing the line six yards ahead of the British team, an American quartet featuring the individual gold and silver medallists Harrison Dillard and Barney Ewell was adjudged to have completed its first transfer of the baton outside the legal area.
The medal ceremony was held, but three days later a jury of appeal viewed film of the race and noted that the change had been legal - thus the original order was restored.
"An obvious example was the disqualification of the American team in the 400 metres relay race owing to a venial error of a judge, and its subsequent rectification on photographic evidence,” the article continued. "The verdict was received with decency and dignity and its reversal of our runners’ victory, even though our only one, was in the circumstances far more bitter than sweet."
This passage features in the excellent book written by Janie Hampson, The Austerity Olympics – When the Games Came to London in 1948 - as does the following, in which David Astor, the recently-appointed editor of The Observer, also comments on the Games:
"Enormous crowds, beating the 1936 Berlin record, have packed the stadium careless equally of scorching sun and drizzling rain; and with limited resources we have managed to offer a hospitable welcome to great numbers of competitors and visitors from abroad…
"All this we have done quietly, with none of the nationalistic ostentation which travestied the Olympic spirit in Berlin. We can feel modest pride that the London Games have been one of the most successful of these festivals of sport and quite the most harmonious on temper.
"May we not claim to be leading contenders for the honourable title, Enemies of Nonsense?"
When the next major Games arrive - be they Olympic, be they Commonwealth - there will surely be a significant moderation in tone, given what we will all have endured in the year or so before. There will surely be less nonsense. And for the Commonwealth Games, that moderation may require significantly less effort.
One’s hope of a saner sporting climate is diminished, admittedly, by the current circumstances in England, whereby the two UEFA Champions League finalists of last year, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, who between them announced profits of £129 million ($158 million/€147 million) for the 2018-2019 financial year, are now seeking to use a Government scheme to pay 80 per cent of their staff’s wages during the pandemic lockdown.
When Jamie Carragher, that archetypal Liverpool man and player - albeit that he grew up a fanatical Everton fan - criticises his old club’s action, you know just how misjudged it has been.
But the gracious initial reaction of the Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp, to the - as yet - temporary cessation of the Premier League season, with his team just a handful of points away from a runaway win, offers the other possible response for sport in society.
As does the subsequent effort of the club captain, Jordan Henderson, to set up a Premier League fund to benefit National Health Service workers.
At times like this, for all those involved in sport, getting the tone right is vital.