Commonwealth Games faces extinction after 2026 hosting debacle

Commonwealth Games faces extinction after 2026 hosting debacle
Miranda Coetzee of South Africa in the women’s 4x400m final during the Athletics event on day 10 of the 2022 Commonwealth Games at Alexander Stadium on August 07, 2022 in Birmingham, England. (Photo: Roger Sedres / Gallo Images)

It feels like the Commonwealth Games has been limping towards extinction for more than a generation — and now the end might be upon it.

This week’s news that Australia’s Gold Coast had backed out of hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games (CWG), just five months after Melbourne had pulled the plug in July, underlines that the Games are no longer viable. Perhaps they never were.

Melbourne and the state of Victoria were initially set to host the Games in 2026, but they bailed in July this year, as costs soared above budget. 

Victoria Premier Dan Andrews said the cost of the Games, which were to have been held in four regional hubs, would total more than A$7-billion (R90-billion) from a budgeted A$2.6-billion (R33-billion) if they went ahead. 

Going almost three times over budget caused significant unease in Victoria as citizens, not unreasonably, believed their tax money could be better spent.

commonwealth games

Anneke Bosch of Team South Africa bats during the Cricket T20 Group B match between Team South Africa and Team Sri Lanka on day seven of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games at Edgbaston on 4 August 2022. (Photo: Alex Davidson / Getty Images)

“Frankly, A$6-billion to A$7-billion for a 12-day sporting event, we’re not doing that,” Andrews told the media in July.

“I will not take money out of hospitals and schools to fund an event that is three times the cost as estimated and budgeted for last year.”

If Australia, one of the richest countries in the world and one of the most well-off in the Commonwealth, and a country with a long and successful association with the event, has so brutally backed out of hosting the CWG, what chance do the Games have of survival?

They have only once been hosted outside Britain and Australia since 1998 — in Delhi in 2010. And those Games were mired in controversy and a government inquiry that revealed wide-scale corruption and budget overruns.

The Commonwealth Games have long been the Olympics’ poor cousin, and unlike other massive global events such as the Fifa World Cup, the CWG can’t simply make eyes at the wealth of Qatar or Saudi Arabia to save it.

Victoria, and now Queensland’s decisions, mean that the 2026 edition is unlikely to go ahead. As it stands today, no cities are jumping in to save the 2026 edition and there are no bidders for the 2030 CWG either. 

But the governing body put on a brave face after Australia’s Gold Coast cried off. 

“Since the sudden withdrawal of Victoria in July 2023 as host of the 2026 Games, the Commonwealth Games Federation has been working tirelessly with Commonwealth Games associations to find a new host who would be able to step in at such short notice,” a spokesperson said this week.

“We are in active conversations with a number of potential hosts across the Commonwealth and hope to provide an update on those discussions in early 2024.” 

Crucial weeks

While projecting an image of being in control, the reality is that these will be a crucial few weeks to determine whether the 2026 CWG go ahead somewhere, under one of the 72 federations that make up the organisation. 

Durban was supposed to host the 2022 CWG but was stripped of that “honour” in 2017 after several key deadlines were missed. It was probably for the best, given the unprecedented impact of Covid-19 and South Africa’s energy crisis.

Birmingham stepped in to host the 2022 edition, but even then, the city pulled it off only because of the influence of the UK government. It was the year of the late Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee and funds were directed to pull it off. The UK government spent £600-million (R16.8-billion) of taxpayers’ money to make the Games a success.

The blinding reality is that the costs — financial and social — of major multisport events in one region increasingly do not add up. The only way the CWG, but possibly the Olympics too, will survive in future, will be to downscale.

Money, obviously, is generally at the root of all solutions or problems. But in the modern world, the environmental, social and political impacts of staging these events are also a huge consideration.

While organisers try to sell these events on the basis of “economic impact” and “legacy” as benefits for a particular region, there is very little documented evidence to prove these so-called perks.

The 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa left a handful of stadiums, which cost billions to build, almost useless now. That’s just one aspect of the situation.

Paris, which hosts next year’s Summer Olympic Games, is embroiled in squabbling as citizens grow increasingly angry at the outlay for a 17-day event.

The Eiffel Tower is currently being repainted in “gold”, at great cost, although the colour is unlike any gold anyone is familiar with. Metro prices are set to double and many central Paris restaurants are considering closing because road closures and security restrictions are going to make trading almost impossible.

Paris’ famous street vendors along the Seine River are set to be removed and there is a corruption probe into the awarding of contracts.

Security costs for these major sporting events have soared to ridiculous levels, adding to the budget overruns.

If the Olympics, which started in 1896 and predates the CWG by 34 years, is struggling to attract bidders and interest (Brisbane was the only viable bid for the 2032 Games), what are the chances of its lesser cousin surviving? DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Richard Baker says:

    Can already foresee some enterprising ANC/Government Departments and functionaries licking their lips at the chance to “ save the CWG” at vast and unnecessary expense for kudos and self-aggrandisement and the chance to plunder yet more taxpayers money! Department of Tourism leaps to mind-they’re still smarting over missing the Tottenham kick-backs!

  • Grant S says:

    It’s not ‘The Games’ that are broken, people still generally love a great sporting event.

    We only need look at the hype around soccer, rugby, tennis, golf to name a few; as well as countless ‘smaller’ (or are they bigger) sports where the USA can call themselves world champions for competing amongst their states.

    The problem is the commercialization, the expectation of everything being new with the latest ‘everything’, but most of all the bureaucracy, cost of officialdom and the fear factor. Security, safety measures, technology scanning every person, every space, every potential threat, these are the factors destroying what used to be well spirited gatherings of sports people striving to do their best.

    As the article mentions, Australia has pulled the pin on hosting the Commonwealth spectacle, but Victoria (that great unionized state) still sends hundreds of construction workers home when the temperature hits 35 degrees outside even when 90% of them are working inside with air conditioning, and you have to attend courses to be a lollipop traffic person earning $70,000 plus per annum on top of which your ‘qualification’ needs to be re-validated every three years! Clearly the demands of stop/go management require such intensive upskilling. The great nanny state will never deliver anything on budget – ever.

    Using corruption allegations surrounding the Dehli Games also doesn’t decry the event itself, but rather reflects and amplifies the point around the people being the root cause of the decline in viability of these once great events. There is nothing that greedy people can’t destroy given enough incentive.

    The point being budget blowouts are created by the environment lacking commonsense and can do attitude along with the minorities (within many different communities) fueling hatred that in turn drive costs up as no country wants to be the next Munich Games.

    AU$2.6 Billion not being enough money to host 5,000 athletes and their hangers on for a couple of weeks is a disgrace. Using the original budget for the sake of illustration, at over AU$40,000 per day per athlete, any country should be able to put on an amazing event. Keep in mind SA’s income per person per day is less than US$19. (A stretch as a comparative illustration I know). It’s not the event that the problem but everything that we as society seem to believe is required to make the event a commercial success.

    Oh yes, and the potential hate driven crimes against humanity that justifiably scare that crap out of potential hosts. There’s nothing that people can’t screw up with a bit of self-centered motivation.

  • John Patson says:

    What did anyone expect when they turned pro? Winning a track and field gold medal in the Olympics is worth $1 million to the winner — and probably a loss of job for the rest.
    Large part of the Commonwealth funding is for air tickets and accommodation for the participants, and the three hangers on they all bring with them because they effectively support financially the trainer, the massager and the nutritionist, because they are pros.
    Old days, when amateur federations back home supported most of the cost might have been unfair for athletes from countries which, shall we say politely, are less organised than others, but it meant to hold the games you just needed a sports field or four and you did not have to go begging to “sponsors” and lick the backsides of every TV company executive in the world.

  • Coen Gous says:

    Without being sarcastic, but what the heck is the commonwealth games in any case? Other than to celebrate the legacy of the great British empire, built on colonialism. Yet it is the only event where SA athletes can earn medals, and hang on their bar walls. Such is the demise of SA in world sport, except rugby of course. Oh, there is the African Games of course, where competition in many sporting codes take place against countries where the sport does not exist. To me the CG it is not second place to the Olympics, or third, or fourth. It does not ranked at all. But those countries part of the Commonwealth are mere beggars in the world of a much bigger world

  • Lesley Young says:

    In my day the Olympics were purely amateur. No teams, individuals representing their countries, couldn’t even be used in advertising as that would lose out amateur status. I’m not surprised it has become too expensive, with professionals being paid to perform.

  • Glenn Varrie says:

    After Dan Andrews went full fascist bully boy on Melbourne residents over the covid nonsense where he destroyed businesses and his city`s tax base it`s not surprising that there isn`t any money left.

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