Special Interview Feature
New Statesman: What is the history of Gibraltar's participation in the Commonwealth Games?
Charlie Flower: Gibraltar’s participation goes back to 1958 when it was called the British & Empire Games and was held in Cardiff. It was a special moment for me because I was able to represent my country in its first Games. I was also the flag bearer and travelled with another athlete, Brian Kitchener, who ran the mile and the 880 yards.
NS: How many times have you been to the Games?
CF: Wales was my only Games as an athlete, but I’ve also been a coach once and I’ve travelled as chef de mission / general team manager five times. More recently, I’ve been at the Games in Delhi and Glasgow in my current role.
NS: You have just been awarded an Order of Merit for 60 years of service to sport in Gibraltar. How has the quality of sport in Gibraltar changed during this time?
CF: In some sports, the quality has exceeded expectations. However, in other areas it has moved more slowly. Gibraltar has the athletes to compete at international level but politics on the global stage plays its part in Gibraltar’s development.
NS: What have been the most significant milestones?
CF: There have been many great achievements, whether Commonwealth activities or not. Gibraltar had an abundance of quality middle-distance runners from 1970 to 1984, which coincided with the closed-border years. Rifle shooting has also been of the highest level and continues to grow, with an individual performer of note being Heloise Manasco, who reached the final of the 10m women’s Air Rifle in Melbourne. Triathlon has also grown in popularity over the past dozen years.
NS: Tell us about your own career as an athlete. You were the first Gibraltarian to compete in the Commonwealth Games in 1958 – what was that like?
CF: I was a keen sportsman and participated in most sports as a youngster on the Rock, although athletics was my forte. I specialised in one lap of the track, which was 440 yards in those days. It was a special moment for me in 1958 as it was a daunting prospect being on the start line in Cardiff up against world-renowned runners. I finished fifth in the first heat, clocking 53.10.
NS: How about this year's team – in what sports is Gibraltar particularly strong?
CF: This year’s team was the largest we’ve been able to send, with a total of 27 athletes across nine sports. There was a lot of experience, with some having competed three or four times before, but there were also a lot of youngsters cutting their teeth at this level for the first time.
We featured in three of the shooting disciplines. This included Albert Buhagiar and Wayne Piri competing in the 50m prone rifle, with Wayne finishing 14th out of 60 shooters.
It was a special Games for Wayne, with both his daughters also competing. Natalie was in the women’s prone rifle, while Stephanie shot in the 10m air rifle. Both shot well in their first Games and will surely return in four years time.
Clay trap shooters Kevin Cowles and Gary Cooper had a reasonable first day of competition but fell away in the second day, while air pistol pair Jonathan Patron and Louis Baglietto were solid, but will feel they have unfinished business.
We competed in squash for the first time, and the trio of Christian Navas, Anthony Brindle and Mark Tewkesbury all performed admirably against most of the world’s top 20. Anthony, in fact, made it to the second round of the singles.
The swim squad broke five national records across the six days in the pool, with the team blooding three young swimmers during the course of the first week.
The cyclists were just outside the top 30 in the time trial. With over 60 riders having taken to the start, the course was very demanding, but they stuck to their task.
Triathlon on the first day was of the highest calibre, with Gibraltar’s three triathletes up against the top in the world. Under the rules of the event, two of the Gibraltar boys were “pulled” from the elite race after being lapped by the race leaders, but the veteran Chris Walker was able to finish.
I’ve left my sport, athletics, till last. It started with disappointment, with Allison Edwards pulling out at the half way stage in the Marathon due a reoccurring injury. Allison was making her Games debut in her forties and I know how hard she had trained.
Emma Montiel battled bravely in the 10,000m, which is a gruelling 25 laps of the track. She was up against a whole host of world-class distance runners, while young sprinter Jerai Torres recorded two season bests in the 100m and 200m.
Gibraltar’s participation finished on a high, with Harvey Dixon breaking a national record that had stood for 28 years in the 1500m.
NS: What is support for the Commonwealth Games and the Gibraltar team like back home? Do the Games make Gibraltarians feel more British?
CF: The support is getting better and has grown in recent years, as we’ve looked to promote ourselves better. However, I still think we don’t get the support we deserve.
I don’t think the Games make Gibraltarians feel more British; that’s already part of our identity. We do feel part of a unique family alongside the other 70 nations of the Commonwealth.
NS: What has been the most memorable event for you throughout your career with the Gibraltar Commonwealth Games Association?
CF: For me it is being flag bearer at the age of 21, but other memorable highlights include Heloise making the final in Melbourne, rhythmic gymnast Georgina Cassar making the final in Delhi, and hockey umpire Nathan Stagno officiating the final of the men’s hockey in India.
NS: It's rumoured that you will be retiring after this year's Games. What would you like your legacy to be? What are your hopes for the future of competitive sport in Gibraltar?
CF: Yes, I will be passing on the baton as President of the Gibraltar Commonwealth Games Association. My legacy is 60 years in sport, helping and being at the forefront of Gibraltar’s participation at the Games and as part of the Federation.
My hopes for the future are that one day Gibraltar will have athletes competing at the highest level on the international stage without obstacles and hindrance.
Politics and sport shouldn’t meet. We constantly strive for this. We’ve already had athletes participate at the Olympics for GB. Last time out in London, Georgina Cassar competed as part of the GB rhythmic gymnastics team, and Nathan, whom I’ve also already mentioned, officiated the hockey competition.
We can compete, it’s just a matter of time.
Charlie (right) shows off his Order of Merit alongside veteran triathlete Chris Walker (Photo: John Shephard, Gibraltar Commonwealth Games Association)