Dan Palmer

Seventy-two countries and territories will compete at this year's Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, and I have set myself the task of speaking to every single one of them.

In a bid to produce the ultimate preview of the event, I am trying to track down each team's Chef de Mission for a chat.

As I write, I have completed 36 interviews, meaning I am halfway through the lengthy challenge.

It has, as you might expect, been a fascinating experience.

The Commonwealth Games stretches to every part of the earth and covers some of the world's tiniest and remotest places.

These are destinations I often know next to nothing about, so it's a privilege to pick up the phone and learn their sporting stories.

So far I have Zoomed into St Helena to discuss their 11 day sea voyage to Glasgow 2014, and the fact that rabbits have dug up the island's only sports field.

I contacted the Falkland Islands and was left in little doubt over the pro-Commonwealth feeling found at the foot of South America, where the bowls team have to set up in a school corridor.

A particular thrill came when I spoke to Anguilla's Cardigan Connor, a former cricketer who starred as a fast bowler for my very own county of Hampshire.

Connor needed to direct me onto the subject of the Commonwealth Games as we could have ended up talking about bat and ball for hours. 

Of particular interest were his exploits at the May's Bounty ground in my hometown of Basingstoke, where I once memorably blasted a six into the car park with the first ball of my innings before being comically stumped on the next delivery.

The Commonwealth Games stretches to countries and territories across the world ©Getty Images
The Commonwealth Games stretches to countries and territories across the world ©Getty Images

A phone call to Bermuda led to a discussion about a rum which had been produced to celebrate Olympic triathlon champion Flora Duffy, but sometimes the conversation covered sadder topics.

The tragic death of Xavier "Dag" Samuels in the British Virgin Islands, and the destruction of the beach handball venue in Saint Kitts and Nevis following a tropical storm, saw proceedings take a more thought-provoking turn.

Some teams have named former athletes as their Chef de Mission, including Gibraltar's triathlete Chris Walker who recalled racing in front of a packed multi-storey car park at Manchester 2002.

Singapore's Lim Heem Wei won a gymnastics silver medal on the balance beam in Glasgow, and Dominica's Woody Lawrence, a swimmer, was the first to represent the island in any sport at the Olympic Games. 

COVID-19, perhaps inevitably, has been a recurring theme. I heard about the tribulations faced by the Cook Islands Olympic team, who endured months in quarantine when returning home from Tokyo 2020.

It also became clear how success is measured differently, depending on who you are.

Not every country can win a hatful of medals like Australia or England, so sometimes pinching a bronze is cause for wild celebrations.

The achievement of Norfolk Island on the bowls green was one such example of how the little teams can punch above their weight.

Tracking down the Chef de Missions has not been the easiest of tasks. A full list of names with contact details does not exist, so it has been up to me to frantically search the internet before firing off correspondence in the hope of receiving a reply.

I have already made countless calls and sent numerous emails and WhatsApp messages, with varying degrees of success, and I have a complex spreadsheet of names and numbers on the go.

Alexander Stadium in Birmingham will host the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony on July 28 ©Getty Images
Alexander Stadium in Birmingham will host the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony on July 28 ©Getty Images

A number of email addresses which are listed online no longer work, meaning original methods are needed in order to touch base.

On one occasion, after a fair few emails bounced back, I finally made a breakthrough after asking the country's Government press office for a contact.

Time zones have also proved a challenge at times. I have conducted interviews at 7am and 9pm to cater for where people are in the world, with the Cook Islands' location to the east of the International Date Line proving to be particularly confusing.

With 36 countries to go, time to complete the challenge is ticking away before the Birmingham 2022 Opening Ceremony on July 28.

If you are a Chef de Mission who I have not yet spoken to, you will likely find a message or two from me on your phone or in your email in-tray.

Please do get in touch, as I'm really looking forward to seeing what other stories the Commonwealth has to offer.

The Chef de Mission interviews written so far can be read here.