Who won the Commonwealth Games?

A points analysis of the Gold Coast games

With the conclusion of the latest edition of the Commonwealth Games it's time to mobilize our statistical team and find out what really happened in Gold Coast. And while the media and government big shots are focused on gold medal tallies we will take an in-depth look at performance as it relates to population and team size, digging down to find out which countries performed with the most depth; something that simply isn't obvious from gold medal counts alone.

First, the obvious. Australia clearly had a superior performance thanks in part to their role as host. Wth 472 athletes entered in a compact 23-sport program Australia had 75 more athletes entered than the next largest team, England, who showed up with 397 competitors. The large team entry gave Australia the advantage in being able to fully enter the competition in every sport when other teams might not have sent athletes at all if performance expectations were low. This advantage was noted in our 2017 SEA Games analysis where Malaysia enjoyed the same host country benefit.

But although numbers are important Australia's real success stems from a pervasive sport culture, which for several decades now has enabled Australia to be at or near the top in world sport. This variable, as it relates to national sport performance, is not measured directly by this current analysis. It's clear though that not all of the 71 countries that attended the Commonwealth Games were athletic peers.

About this analysis

  • All team and performance data for this analysis was taken from the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games website (gc2018.com) and simple Google searches for population and GDP data. We used only data from the Top 20 scoring teams (as shown in Table 1).
  • As we have written before, scoring large multi-sport events is a questionable practice no matter how it's done but in this analysis we have tried to do it in the most logical way we can: Each medal is given a point value and countries are ranked by total points scored.
  • As a result of the above point, Malaysia finished the 2018 Commonwealth Games in 11th place overall based on points scored, not 12th as reported in the press. No sensible argument can be made to rank countries based on the number of gold medals they win or the number of total medals. The medals must have some kind of value to make any kind of ranking scheme valid and relevant to performance and overall team strength.

Overall result

Table 1 illustrates how the gold medal count alone could produce an inaccurate picture of overall team performance. This is especially evident in the difference between Canada and India. India won 26 gold medals to Canada's 15 yet Canada outscored India by 12 points by virtue of their second (silver) and third place (bronze) finishes. Malaysia outscored Cyprus in the same way; likewise Kenya and Singapore, and Northern Ireland and Uganda. All instances result in a flipping of what the final places would have been if only gold medals were counted.

Tables 4 and 5 give the point totals for men and women. Medal counts for mixed events are not part of these tables.

Points scored per million population

One of the more interesting ways to analyse these results is by calculating point production per million population. A common assumption is that more populous countries score more points. This is one of those things that sounds like it should be true but generally is not. Table 2 shows the point/population ranking.

Small populations (under 1 million) skew results. The Bahamas, for example, scored 14 points and when divided by their 390,000 population yields an unusually high number of points per athlete, as does the data for Samoa (196,000 population). Wales, on the other hand, also yields a high point per athlete average but based on a much larger population (3 million).

Punching above their weight - based on Table 2 we would have to say that Wales fielded the strongest team in these Games. This is not to diminish the efforts of Samoa and The Bahamas, both of which have higher points per million scores, it's just that their populations and team size are too small to get a good comparison.

Population, though, is not a good indicator of sport success. A more accurate analysis might include population, per capita GDP, and perhaps some other economic variables to get a better idea of a country's overall development.

Points scored relative to team size

Comparing the number of points scored per athlete relative to team size is another interesting way of looking at results.

In Table 3 we see that Australia had a remarkable average number of points scored per athlete given the size of the team they entered.

So that's our analysis of team performance at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Queensland. We do these articles mostly to emphasize that counting gold medals, as the local Malaysian press loves to do, is a poor way to gauge athletic performance or success. Readers should note however that only Tables 1, 4, and 5, the overall scores and scores for men and women, represent real information. Tables 2 and 3, points per population and points per athlete are merely arm-chair comparisons and meant only for the sake of curiosity.

Next up is our Malaysia Games and Asian Games analysis coming sometime in September.