In another major blow to the next Commonwealth Games (CWG) scheduled in 2026, Australian city Gold Coast has also withdrawn its interest in hosting the edition, raising further questions about the Games’ immediate future and long-term relevance.

Athletes of Team India take part in the Opening Ceremony of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games(Getty Images)

Announcing Gold Coast’s decision to pull the plug, its mayor Tom Tate said in a statement, “In simple terms, it seems our Games’ vision doesn’t align with the vision of the state or federal governments.”

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It’s a recurring theme with regards to Australia — the most successful country in the history of the CWG — and hosting the multi-sport event between Commonwealth nations that were former territories of the British Empire. Gold Coast came into the picture only after Victoria, originally meant to host the 2026 edition, announced in July that it will no longer be able to. There too, the state government wasn’t willing to play ball citing rising costs. Estimated budgets reportedly surged from around three billion Australian dollars to more than six billion, with the then Victorian state premier Daniel Andrews stating that they were not willing to spend that kind of money on a “12-day sporting event”.

If that sudden withdrawal wasn’t setback enough for the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) that was left “hugely disappointed”, a month later Canada’s Alberta province backed out from its bid to host the 2030 CWG, again putting it down to the high financial burden.

Recurring problem

As things stand, the next CWG in less than three years’ time and the one after that have no concrete bidders to host it. The CGF is fast running out of time, and concrete options, to stage the event. As it is, except India that hosted the 2010 edition in New Delhi, only cities in Australia (2006 Melbourne and 2018 Gold Coast) and the UK (2002 Manchester, 2014 Glasgow and 2022 Birmingham) have played hosts to the CWG since the turn of the century. And with various state governments in Australia making their disinterest clear in getting the CWG to their territory, the reg flags only appear to be growing.

Those flags were already present when the Games had to grapple to get a host in place even for the 2022 edition. After Durban was stripped of its right to stage the 2022 CWG due to financial troubles in 2017, Birmingham, whose bid was earlier deemed “non-compliant” by CGF, rescued the Games as no other city reportedly came forward as replacement. Similar is the case with 2026, despite the Victoria state premier saying then that it was “happy to help out… but not at any price” after the organisers approached them for the 2026 edition only for it to now run out of takers in Australia.

Delay possibility

It means the 2026 edition not only faces the probability of moving out of Australia entirely but even the possibility of a postponement.

CGF did not respond to questions sent by this paper about the road ahead on Monday. Earlier this year, CGF CEO Katie Sadleir, while stating that they were in preliminary discussions with “three other regions” about hosting the next edition, admitted that it could well be pushed to 2027. “Our aim is to be in a situation early in the new year to make a call on where a Games might go in 2026, 2027 or whether or not we might do something a bit different,” Sadleir said. “… Nothing is sure. It’s a very short period of time for which to find a host.”

On Monday, Commonwealth Games Australia chief executive Craig Phillips did not rule out the Games moving out of Australia. “It’s our preference to host here and we will keep going while we think we have got options to explore. But if they (CGF) have a better option, then they should seriously consider it,” Phillips told the Australian Associated Press.

Relevance question

More than 4,500 athletes from 54 countries and 18 territories had assembled last year in Birmingham, which, according to the organisers and the BBC, was the most attended and watched CWG in history.

However, the larger relevance of CWG, and the concept of Commonwealth nations as a whole in today’s world, is increasingly being questioned. Not least by former CGF president Dame Louise Martin who, in 2018, said the Commonwealth movement was facing an “existential crisis”. In July, Western Australia premier Roger Cook said the CWG “aren’t what they used to be and as a result of that they don’t provide the return on investment”.

Murmurs along those lines have also cropped up in India. In 2019, peeved by the exclusion of shooting for the Birmingham edition, the then Indian Olympic Association president Narinder Batra termed the Games “a waste of time and money” with “no standard”.

For Indian athletes though, the CWG — it normally falls right in between an Olympic cycle and months before the Asian Games — provides a first pitstop and reflection of where they’re at heading into the next Olympics. The quality of competition may vary from sport to sport but the experience of a multi-sport stage remains a binding factor. India had 61 medals in Birmingham and finished fourth in the medals tally.

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