June 19, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Commonwealth Games: Leaving Australia could be ‘the death knell’

Commonwealth Games: Leaving Australia could be ‘the death knell’
  • Written by Tiffany Turnbull and Hannah Ritchie
  • BBC News, Sydney

image source, Getty Images

photo caption,

Historically, Australia has been one of the most enthusiastic host nations for the Commonwealth Games

Fourteen months ago, Daniel Andrews walked onto an Australian regional court and announced that Victoria would host the 2026 Commonwealth Games – promising “games like no other”.

But on Tuesday, Andrews – who was less thrilled – faced a media package as he briefly revealed that the state was withdrawing from her contract.

It throws the tournament’s plans into disarray and the future of the Games in doubt.

After a tough few years for regulators, experts say this may be the final straw.

“This could mean the end of the Commonwealth Games,” says Steve Georgakis, Lecturer in Sports Studies at the University of Sydney.

Australian sports historian Matthew Klugman agrees: “It could be a death knell.”

How did we get here?

Finding a host for the 2026 Games has always been difficult.

The CGF had originally intended to name a city in 2019, but hopeful bidders fell like dominoes – mostly over cost concerns – leaving organizers unable to book a host until three years later.

Andrews says the organizers contacted his government, and were initially “happy to help”.

“But not at any cost,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday.

image source, Fairfax Media/Getty Images

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Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews speaks to the press in Melbourne in 2022

The event was supposed to be a huge boost for the regional cities hosting it, at a cost of A$2.6 billion (£1.4 billion; $1.8 billion).

Andrews said the cost of holding the 12-day Games had risen to more than A$6 billion.

“I’ve made a lot of tough calls, a lot of very tough decisions in this job. This isn’t one of them,” he told reporters.

CGF says they were shocked by Victoria’s decision, and questioned the estimates.

The CGF’s Australian arm – the Commonwealth Games of Australia (CGA) – said it was looking to convince other state governments that the numbers were “grossly overstated” and that the investment was sound.

“We are taking advice on the options available to us and remain committed to finding a solution for the Games in 2026 that is in the best interests of our athletes and the broader Commonwealth Sports movement,” the Commonwealth Sports Club said in a statement.

But this is an unfortunately familiar problem for CGF.

It has also struggled to find applicants able to participate in the 2022 tournament.

Durban was supposed to be the first city in Africa to host the Games, but was stripped of the hosting rights in 2017 after running into financial troubles and missing key deadlines.

Nine months later, Birmingham and the British government stepped in to save the Games, raising $1 billion.

Now just three years away from the 2026 Championships – the short window in which a global multi-sport event gathers – Team CGF is looking for a savior.

But it seems like a daunting task.

Already, the leaders of every Australian state have ruled out picking up the tab.

Roger Cook, Premier of Western Australia, called the event “devastatingly expensive”, saying: “The Commonwealth Games are nothing like they used to be”.

And while New South Wales was widely seen as the more viable Australian alternative due to its existing infrastructure, Prime Minister Chris Minns said, “Hosting the Commonwealth Games would be a nice thing to do. Schools and hospitals should do it,” he said.

Australia’s last host city – the Gold Coast, which staged the Games in 2018 – says it is “impractical to think that any city could step in now in such a short time frame”.

Even if it were possible, few countries have the means.

Only one game has been held outside the UK or Australia in the last 20 years – the 2010 outing in the Indian capital, Delhi.

Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the Commonwealth and, as Dr Georgakis says, has historically been their most enthusiastic supporters.

“If Australia can’t host the Games, what chance does one of the former small colonies have?”

But it’s not just cost at play here.

Critics of Victoria’s decision point out that the country is spending too much money on similar global sporting events – for example, it is spending millions to co-host the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which begins on Thursday.

Andrews anticipated this, and repeatedly emphasized that the 2026 Games did not generate a “return on investment” like other events.

“[It’s] All costs and no benefit.

Experts say the picture of global competition and its perceived importance is diminishing.

First, the championship doesn’t attract the same star power as it used to.

In the past year, many high-profile names have chosen to miss out on the matches, including British diving champion Tom Daly, Australian swimming sweetheart Kate Campbell, and track stars Andre de Grasse, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Sherica Jackson.

Usain Bolt, who was racing very fast, is said to have called the tournament “a bit sloppy” – he claimed it was misquoted, even though the journalist posted a transcript.

“There is a lot less interest than there used to be,” says Dr. Klugman.

“It’s not a phenomenon it was even in the ’90s. It reflects a changing world.”

Part of this changing world is the growing indifference to the original purpose of the tournament.

Historians say the competition, initially called the Empire Games when it began in 1930, was initially a tool to hold Britain’s colonies together.

“In an empire that is beginning to crumble under a whole host of challenges, it is still seen as an opportunity to maintain and consolidate power,” says Dr. Klugman.

image source, Getty Images

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Women compete in the 80-meter hurdles at the 1938 British Empire Games in Sydney

“Australia in 1938 is very different from Australia in 2023,” said Dr Georgakis.

“It is difficult to get people who are not of British descent into the concept of uniting Australia with the mother country and other former colonies.”

This is coupled with an increased awareness and scrutiny of the competition’s colonial history.

In 1982, Indigenous Australians called the games the Stolenwealth Games, a moniker she couldn’t shake.

“It’s called Stolenwealth for a good reason,” says Klugman. “These were the places where the value was extracted and brought back to the heart of the empire.”

And with Australia in the grip of a cost-of-living crisis and debate over recognizing Aboriginal people in the constitution, some say pouring billions into the games would be a horrific sight.

rename “strategy”

CGF knows it’s in a fight for gaming survival.

The organization’s president, Dame Louise Martin, said in 2018 that it was facing an “existential crisis”.

“Recently, our federation has done a lot of soul-searching to look at our impact and meaning,” she said.

image source, Getty Images

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Dame Louise Martin has tried to modernize the games in recent years

In a strategic plan covering the next decade, the organization said: “There is no easy way to say that the Commonwealth has a challenging history linked to colonial roots.”

“The work has already begun to change the focus from the dominance of the British Empire to the dominion of world peace.”

It is not clear what that means in practice.

But for all questions of their significance, the Games remain incredibly important to the athletes who compete.

For many sports such as netball, it is the pinnacle of competition, and many athletes have expressed deep disappointment with the decision.

Olympian Jemima Montague says she robbed her of the chance to win a third gold medal in front of a home crowd.

And Australian swimmer Rowan Crothers notes that the cancellation is particularly painful for people with disabilities.

The Commonwealth Games are the only major international competition featuring athletes with disabilities alongside able-bodied athletes.

“[It’s] A great opportunity to raise awareness of the sport of the disabled. He wrote on Twitter that canceling the games would hurt his inclusion status.

“For some athletes, a Commonwealth Games gold medal means more than a Paralympic gold medal… Recognition and equality can mean more than achievement.”