Victoria’s decision to withdraw as host of the Commonwealth Games scheduled for 2026 has caused both surprise and consternation within the nations that make up the grouping. Nearly a century old, the games were first held in 1930 and then named the British Empire Games. They were a preserve of the white nations that were part of the empire. Post World War II, and with the end of colonialism, the games assumed a new character and were thrown open to the 56 members of the Commonwealth. But hosting the games has often attracted controversy. Victoria has said in support of its decision that holding the games makes no economic sense. Making the announcement, Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews made it clear that spending 6 or 7 billion Australian dollars on a 12-day event did not represent value for money and called it a case of “all costs and no benefits”. In contrast, a report by accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers which analysed the events held in 2002, 2006, 2014 and 2018, found that every dollar spent by the host cities or nations generated two dollars for their economies.
Additionally, each event generated an average of 18,000 jobs. Significantly, the Delhi Games, held in 2010, and considered the most expensive to have ever been hosted with an estimated cost of $11 billion, was not part of this estimation. The Delhi Games were marked by widespread allegations of corruption. At the same time, they did add considerably to the Capital’s infrastructure, especially in terms of providing the city a first-rate metro, even though some of the other projects commissioned at the time are already in a state of decay. It was the expectation that hosting the games would boost Victoria’s economy that led the Australian state to offer itself. It planned to use five venues ~ Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat, Gippsland and Shepparton ~ for the events in March 2026, and hoped that the multi-centre model would prove to be a game changer for local economies. Commonwealth Games Australia is understandably peeved with the decision to pull out. It claimed the Victorian government had “willfully ignored” recommendations to use existing venues in Melbourne and “remained wedded to proceeding with expensive temporary venues.” Several outcomes will flow from the Victorian decision.
The Commonwealth will have to scramble to find an alternative venue. With the last Games having been held in Birmingham, it is unlikely that the United Kingdom will put its hand up. The other outcome, of course, is that questions will be raised on Australia’s appetite and capacity for holding such events, and the immediate focus will be on the 2032 Olympics scheduled to be held in Brisbane. The president of the Brisbane organizing committee has been quick to point out that the Olympics follow a different template, but the questions will remain. Going forward, though, if the Commonwealth is serious about the games, it will have to come up with a financing model that attracts countries, rather than repel them.