Shortcuts / 27 July 2023

The future of the Commonwealth Games

It’s been just over a week since Victoria pulled the pin on hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games – and the future of the whole event is still up in the air. So in this Squiz Shortcut, we take a look at how Victoria got itself into this mess, who could come to the rescue, and if there even is a future for the Commonwealth Games.

Well, that was a bit of a shock…
Yep, it’s fair to say that when the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews called a media conference last week, no one had any clue that cancelling the Games was even an option.

Wasn’t it meant to be a big deal?
Just over a year ago, Andrews made a lot of the fact that the Games would be spread around the regions. He said it was an “investment” and that it would create thousands of jobs.

It was a pretty big play…
It sure was – especially in an election year… He was lauded by the Commonwealth Games Federation for his “bold and innovative” vision to have a regional Games. The state opposition was on board and all the Aussie sporting bodies were beside themselves with the prospect of getting another local event, just 6 years before the 2032 Olympics in Brissie.

But it wasn’t to be…
Nope, fast forward to last week and Andrews said he was withdrawing Victoria from hosting duties due to a cost blowout. He said the original estimate to host was $2.6 billion but it was actually more like $7 billion, and he wasn’t prepared for taxpayers to fork out that much.

Organisers must be pretty unhappy….
They sure are. The chief executive of Commonwealth Games Australia Craig Phillips called that figure a “gross exaggeration” and said the first word he’d heard of any concern was on the morning Andrews pulled the pin.

So what’s the deal with the cost blowout?
The main thing to note is how quickly the costs escalated. We get used to defence projects blowing out over a couple of decades – but Andrews is saying the cost of the Games had doubled in just a year since Victoria signed up.

What happened?
There’s still so much to come out about how all of this was costed… You can bet journos have already put in dozens of freedom of information requests to get access to the figures.

What a disaster…
And there were problems right from the get-go. When Victoria did step up to host last year, the 2026 Games was already hanging by a thread. At different points, Kuala Lumpur, Wales and Canada as well as Adelaide had all withdrawn their bids.

So no one really wanted to host…
No, and that’s been a common theme for a few years now. In 2017, Durban in South Africa was stripped of hosting duties for the 2022 Games over financial issues. Birmingham in the UK was forced to step in. So there have been questions for ages about how it all stacks up.

So is there a white knight coming to the rescue this time?
Time will tell… All the other Aussie states have ruled it out – WA Premier Roger Cook called the event “ruinously expensive”, NSW Premier Chris Minns said his mandate was fixing “hospitals and schools”, South Oz said it didn’t stack up and Queensland was an “emphatic no”.

And no nibbles since then?
There were a couple of bites when the Lord Mayor of Perth Basil Zempilas and the Gold Coast’s Tom Tate said they’d be willing to do it. But that quickly fizzled to nothing without the backing of the state government.

What about overseas?
Nothing’s looking solid so far. UK PM Rishi Sunak was really putting pressure on Australia to sort this out – he didn’t want Birmingham to have to host again. There was also talk India might fill the gap but it’s all looking a bit half-hearted.

Which begs the question… Does anyone actually care about the Commonwealth Games anymore?
The athletes who compete sure do… But the nub of the problem is that the Games have attracted a lot less global attention over the last decade. Only Commonwealth countries compete, so the field of athletes isn’t considered world-class in some events.

And what even is the Commonwealth anymore?
It’s seen by some as a bit of a relic and concerns about the colonial history of the British Empire have really followed the Games for years. Let’s just say it has a bit of a branding problem…

Add to that the cost issues…
And it’s really not as financially viable as it once was. The return on investment in the Games in recent years through tourism and jobs is a lot less than the cost of running the events including building infrastructure. Unlike staging a single sport like an F1 Grand Prix, the Games require so many more facilities for dozens of different sports.

But it still works for the Olympics?
The Olympics is way more lucrative for a host city. We’re talking more tourists, a big injection of funds from the International Olympic Committee and usually a pretty sweet TV rights deal.

So what happens now?
Well, a lot of sports officials are worried this could actually be the end of the road for the Commonwealth Games. It’s actually the Games’ centenary in 2030… That event is meant to be held in Canada but no one reckons it would be possible to skip a Games and pick it back up in 8 years’ time.

So everything’s on the line…
Pretty much – so standby so see if anyone can pull a rabbit out of the hat and find a new host city for 2026.

Squiz recommends:

Commonwealth Games weird and wonderful momentsABC News

Australia’s most iconic Comm Games momentsFox Sports

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