July’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham could be the last in the near hundred-year history of the competition should the Victorian government and the Commonwealth Games Federation fail to agree on a proposed regional Games for the state in 2026.
Talks between the Andrews government and Commonwealth Games Australia are yet to be finalised as both sides consider costs, structure and what sports would be on the program.
Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are the only countries among more than 70 Commonwealth Games Federation members currently interested in staging the Games, with optimism Canada will support it in 2030 resting almost exclusively on it being the centenary of the first-ever games in Hamilton, Ontario.
A further possible driver for Canada would be the freedom to include sports attractive to Canadians and the adoption of a regional model. A statewide Games in Victoria with relevant sports could therefore be perceived as an encouragement to other Commonwealth Games nations to bid.
The Andrews government is viewing the 2026 Games as an opportunity to resurrect and drive growth in the regions post COVID-19, with special regard to showcasing regional Victoria to tourists. The Games would also address the challenges of a shortage of social housing in non-metropolitan Victoria. Residential facilities built for athletes in areas such as Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Shepparton and other cities would create jobs, with the accommodation later used by needy residents.
However, with the 2026 Commonwealth Games only four years away, sources close to the negotiations say this year’s Birmingham tournament could be the last if talks between the Victorian government and Commonwealth Games Australia fail.
The federation has declared future Commonwealth Games will not be a “mini Olympics,” arguing only swimming and track and field will be sacrosanct on the program in 2026. This offers opportunities for new sports to join the list of events and drive interest throughout Australia and the Commonwealth, either as visitors or viewers on a range of TV formats.
Some traditional sports, such as weightlifting and boxing, are already under IOC review heading to the 2024 Paris Olympics and could be dropped from the program.
However, the old guard of the Commonwealth Games Federation is likely to mount a strong case for the retention of their sports.
Looming over the future of second-tier international sports tournaments is the possibility of a biennial World Cup in soccer, the globe’s most popular game.
This year’s FIFA World Cup of 32 teams in Qatar will be followed by a 48-team tournament in 2026 in the US, Canada and Mexico.
Concurrently with the World Cup expanding its number of competing teams by 50 per cent, FIFA president Gianni Infantino has formally proposed to the 211 member nations that post 2026 there should be a World Cup every two years. Under this proposal, Oceania would be guaranteed a spot and New Zealand, traditionally a Games host, would be best placed to capitalise on that.
FIFA estimates two World Cups every quadrennial would attract an additional $A16 billion to the global game. This could potentially draw money away from second-tier international tournaments, such as the Winter Olympics, the Commonwealth Games and the biennial world championships in swimming and track and field.
However, this scenario would only play out post-2026, meaning a successful regional Commonwealth Games in Victoria that year could be a model for scaled-down international tournaments in the future.
Source: Roy Masters