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Commonwealth Games

Empire's final grudge: Why Commonwealth Games has no takers

As the Commonwealth Games, a creation of the British empire whose sun had never set for 200 repressive years, is looking out of favour, the sun now seems to be setting on the empire's final grudge.

Empires final grudge: Why Commonwealth Games has no takers

Eldhose Paul and Abdulla Aboobacker after winning the Commonwealth Games gold and silver medals in the men's Triple Jump event in 2022 in Birmingham. ( Photo credit: AFP)


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 26 March 2024 1:11 PM GMT

Australia then, Malaysia now. Commonwealth Games, a legacy of British imperialism, found no taker for its most recent offerings.

Last year, the Australian state of Vitoria withdrew from hosting the multisport event claiming the estimated cost had blown out by $4.5 billion. After Victoria turned its back to the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), it started looking for a probable host.

After its initial considerations for hosting a 'downsized' Commonwealth Games, excluding several sports, Malaysia shelved the planning, pouring cold water on the idea of the Games. Malaysia said the unbearable cost of hosting the Games could shove the country's economy into turmoil. It also found the £100m offering by the CGF as too little against the massive expenditure it needed to bear to host the Games.

In its statement, the OCM said, it could not host the event at such short notice with little time to assess the economic impact on Malaysia.

"We will not be able to cover the overall cost of hosting a large-scale sports event," Malaysia’s sports and youth ministry said in a statement.

“Additionally, the economic impact could not be identified in this short timeframe," it added.

In July 2023, quashing the plan to host the CWG, the premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews said, “What’s become clear is that the cost of hosting these Games in 2026 is not the $2.6bn (£1.3bn) which was budgeted and allocated,” he said. “It is in fact at least $6bn and could be as high as $7bn.”

Victoria had bid for the CWG for the second time in 17 years after it hosted the 2006 Melbourne Games.

Now, the rejections by the two countries raised concerns that the CWG may not be held for the first time since World War II.

The top brass of CGF may criticise Victoria or Malaysia, but the hard truth cannot be overlooked. Birmingham's bankruptcy after the 2022 CWG must have played into their minds. It is one of the reasons that is enough to discourage any country willing to bid for the Games.

The Commonwealth Games' struggle to find a host is not new. Birmingham was originally slated to host the 2026 Games, but with the South African city of Durban making little effort to host the 2022 edition, the CGF stripped it of the right.

In 1998, Malaysia became the first Asian country to host the CWG.

However, the Commonwealth Games does not promise financially much. Further, its high cost meant it never received wide acceptance among the erstwhile colonies of Great Britain, which had been pushed to dire poverty due to the extensive looting by the empire.

Hence, besides Jamaica in 1966, Malaysia in 1998 and India in 2010, CWG has remained a property of a rich bloc, with the Games' caravan revolving around Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand.

Though the 22nd edition of the CWG was scrambled over Brimingham's old infrastructure, the constant snubbing by countries, ruled by the British Empire for centuries, raised questions on the relevance of the Commonwealth Games, an event that started in 1930.

While hosting the multilateral event is a costly affair, its popularity is not at par with the Olympics, Asian Games or FIFA World Cup, hence the profit is low, and that does not make it an attractive event to host.

India, which hosted the CWG in 2010, has been preparing to bid for the 2036 Olympic Games. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already expressed his interest, pitching for Ahmedabad as a possible host. PM Modi's intent to host the Olympics in India showed where the country's interest lies.

In the meantime, sports minister Anurag Thakur made it clear that India has no interest in hosting the CWG. It is perhaps because CWG is not in line with India's global aspirations.

Too naive

There is no denying the fact that the CWG is the third biggest multi-sport event in the world after the Olympic and Asian Games, with athletes from 77 countries and territories participating in the Games. But what makes CWG a low-key event is its less competitiveness.

Take a case of badminton. England initially, then Malaysia and India dominated the sport at the Games, winning 78 medals among themselves. Similarly, in wrestling, Canada and India exerted their domination, and Australian swimmers outclassed all their rivals with their world-class prowess. In table tennis, Singapore was the dominant force, winning 55 medals, with India trailing with 25, demonstrating a level of difference in competition.

Moreover, what never empowered CWG to rise to the level of the Olympics or Asiad is the superstar athletes' unwillingness to compete in the Games. For years, they stayed away, opting to focus on the World Championships and the Olympics. Jamaican sprinters, undoubtedly the best, not only in the Commonwealth but also in the world, had never taken CWG seriously.

In the 2010 CWG, when efforts were made to bring him to Delhi to raise the level of competition, Usain Bolt, the eight-time Olympic gold medallist, deemed the competition too average. He perhaps did not want to shame the silver and bronze medallists leaving them metres away while clinging to the gold medal. The idea did not thrill Bolt. His only appearance at the CWG came in the 2014 Glasgow Games. But Bolt skipped his favourite 100m and 200m events and ran only in the 4x100m relay.

The absence of legendary athletes has hurt the financial prospect of the Commonwealth Games as sponsors turned their faces away from it.

Furthermore, the CWG's exclusionary nature made it less attractive than any other international event. With top athletes giving it a miss, it did not do any good to the participating athletes as their gold medals never raised their level. Hence, when they returned to the world championships, the best of the CWG faced a reality check, even missing a podium finish.

As the Commonwealth Games, a creation of the British empire whose sun had never set for 200 repressive years, is looking out of favour, the sun now seems to be setting on the empire's final grudge.

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