The next Commonwealth games due to take place in Victoria, Australia in 2026, have been thrown into doubt after the the state’s Premier, Daniel Andrews, announced that they were withdrawing their commitment with immediate effect, blaming huge increases in cost projections and stating that the impact of the escalated expenditure outweighed any possible benefits to the region.
The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) were left shocked and blind-sided calling the decision “hugely disappointing” as it came with just eight hours notice. They had struggled to find a willing host before Victoria volunteered in April 2022. They were said to be “taking advice on the options available” but insisted that they remained committed to finding a solution so the Games could go ahead.
There were 72 competing nations or dependencies at the 2022 tournament in Birmingham, England, including 16 from the Caribbean, and it will be hoped that one of the major cities of the Commonwealth with the majority of infrastructure already in place, could come to the rescue, but it will be a race against time.
There must however be a genuine possibility that the Games, which have only ever been cancelled in the past due to World War Two, could fail to find a willing host given that there are only three years to prepare and experts have previously warned about the diminishing interest in delivering a Games as a host city, because of the vast financial outlay it requires.
Organisers had originally estimated the event would cost $2.6 billion AUS (£1.4bn; $1.8bn) and the state government had billed it as a boost for the regions around the cities of Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat, Gippsland and Shepparton, which were due to stage various sports of the Games.
Mr Andrews in his shock statement, announced that the hosting cost of the Games had spiralled to a staggering $6 billion AUS and pointed out that although Victoria had been “happy to help out” when initially approached last year, it was not “at any price” and the projections were now “well and truly too much to bear” or indeed justify for the state.
He went on to say: “I’ve made a lot of difficult calls, a lot of very difficult decisions in this job, but this is not one of them, because frankly 6-7 billion Australian dollars for a 12-day sporting event does not represent value for money, that is all cost and no benefit and we are not doing that.”
The state Premier said that the government remain committed to completing stadium upgrades as promised, but would now use the money it is now saving, on building at least 1,300 affordable homes and tourism initiatives.
Victorian Opposition Leader John Pesutto said the decision is a “massive humiliation” for the state, and “hugely damaging” for its reputation as a global events leader.
The CGF were shocked that no consideration was given to discussing the situation to jointly find solutions and said that the estimate of $6 billion AUS is double the figure that they were advised of at a board meeting only last month, and that any increase in costs were due to the “unique regional delivery model” that Victoria had chosen for the games.
They added that: “Up until this point, the Government had advised that sufficient funding was available to deliver the Victoria 2026 Commonwealth Games,” with a hint at some possible exaggerations in play.
No interest from Aussie states
Moving to an alternative Australian location seems to be a non-starter as all of the country’s states quickly ruled out the possibility. One by one officials released statements, each more or less quoting a similar theme.
New South Wales would decline any approach due to budgetary pressures. South Australia and Western Australia spoke of numbers not stacking up, with significant sums of money needed to be spent with very little return on that investment. Tasmania, who had previously bid for a games, announced that they would not now be reviving their bid, and Queensland also ruled out stepping in, saying the state was focused on the 2032 Olympics instead.
Others quick to rule themselves out
Worryingly, one of the cities within the Queensland state, The Gold Coast – who actually hosted the event in 2018 – said it would be unrealistic and impractical for any city to step up in such a short time-frame, pointing out that it needed 10 years of planning to make their edition the success it was.
New Zealand were quick to make their feelings known, with authorities expressing how “unsettling” it was for their athletes, but completely ruling out any prospect of any of its cities taking on the Games.
Elsewhere the Canadian city of Hamilton had a bid to host the 2030 Games collapse back in February after failure to secure government support, so any intervention from that country seems unlikely.
Birmingham came to the rescue when Durban in South Africa eventually recognised that they were not going to be able to meet the costs for the 2022 Games. Nevertheless, it was noticeable even back then that none the other countries of the Commonwealth Games Federation showed any inclination to step in and it was nine months later that the UK’s second largest city came forward.
There may be hope that they may volunteer themselves once more, considering the fantastic spectacle they put on and the undeniable success they made of hosting the event, with crucially much of the necessary infrastructure still in place.
However, since then there has been a crippling cost of living crisis bite the entire country, and there would likely be much opposition to any such idea, if indeed it existed at all.
Beginning of the end?
As several leading analysts were highlighting after the last tournament, top level international sporting competitions such as the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup occupy the vast majority of attention and generate the big money.
Second-tier events like the Commonwealth Games are entering dangerous territory of being seen as too much hassle to bother with.