I have been to four Commonwealth Games (2010-2022) but I fear that I have been to my last one. The Games have an uncertain future and may have reached the end of the road. Started as the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in 1930, the 2022 Commonwealth Games was a multi-sport event with over 70 nations. The current requirement is that the Games must include swimming and track and field athletics. All other sports are discretionary.
The 2018 Games were held in Gold Coast – a small city on the Eastern Australian coast between Brisbane and Sydney. The location was great and the weather was wonderful. The Games were a great success. From then on, it started to go wrong. The 2022 Games were awarded to Durban, South Africa, but as costs soared, Durban was no longer able to host.
Birmingham, England, stepped into the breach with plans for a new-build Games village, which would be available as housing for the local population afterward. When COVID-19 intervened, the building of the new village was scrapped, with athletes accommodated in two University campuses and one large hotel. While this worked, it did so at the cost of teams being split across three sites and much less interaction between sports than usual. For all the challenges, the Birmingham Games were a great success – high-quality competition before sell-out crowds. The local economy benefitted massively.
Fanie Van der Merwe and Charl Du Toit won gold and silver in the men’s T37 100m event at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014
The games came less than two weeks after the World Championships in Oregon, and the contrast was stark. While the World Championships struggled to fill Hayward’s Field with 12,000 spectators for evening sessions, Birmingham had crowds in excess of 25,000 at all the morning sessions.
Sally Pearson wins gold and Tiffany Porter silver in the women’s 100m hurdles at the Commonwealth Games at Hampden park Glasgow on August 1st 2014
The Australian state of Victoria – Melbourne and neighboring cities – was to host in 2026, but a decision was taken in 2023 that the spiraling costs had led to Victoria canceling its hosting offer. Hot on the heels of that announcement came a decision by Alberta, Canada to withdraw its bid for the 2030 games.
No alternative bids have come forward. While there are 71 Commonwealth countries, the scale of the games seems to preclude all but Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the UK from hosting. A suggestion of slimming down the games or splitting into several smaller games in the different countries has been mooted.
Eilish McColgan won the gold in the 10,000m, and then won the silver in the 5,000 meters at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, photos by Scottish Athletics.
A unique aspect of the Games from a British point of view is that rather than one British team, there are separate England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales teams. I know from talking to them that for Eilish McColgan and Laura Muir, running for and winning a medal for Scotland is a very special moment. More widely, for athletes who are not quite at the World level and unlikely to make an Olympic team, the Commonwealth Games can give them an opportunity to be part of a big multi-sport championship.
As well as the economic question there is a political one. The question is asked: how does a game with an origin in British colonialism – with alleged racist undertones – fit into the modern world? In 2022, a number of prominent black athletes honestly admitted that they were uncomfortable with celebrating events with a tainted history. It is hard to dismiss these concerns.