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COMMONWEALTH GAMES 2026 – Is time running out?

The immediate answer to that question is yes. The normal lead time for the Games is four-six years. That is the preferred timeline for any host country to plan for every eventuality in terms of infrastructure, costs and potential return on investment. The last point refers primarily to television exposure and sponsor income. This is vital for the ‘books’ to balance.
There is little incentive for any country to take this event on though if they are going to lose millions of pounds or whatever currency they use. Brisbane in 2018 managed to do it very successfully and commercially it made it work. As did Glasgow in 2014 and Birmingham in 2022, in fact they came in under budget. Which was a brilliant performance as CWG is not a low-cost venture.
As the second biggest multinational sports, the Olympic Games, which is a true worldwide jamboree of sport, being the ‘big one’ the CWG has a tough job to convince potential hosts to invest. In particular if they are interested in bidding for the Olympics at some time in the near future.
As most people know the state of Victoria in Australia pulled the ‘plug’ on the 2026 Games last year having been confirmed in 2022 as the next venue. Australia has arguably the biggest reputation for being the most sports-oriented country in the world. No doubt due to its enviable weather and outdoor lifestyle and it has been a ‘go to’ country for major sports events for decades as has the UK.
However, there comes a time, especially in today’s difficult economic environment, when hard decisions have to be made. So, Victoria withdrew. Brisbane was the next possible option, as it had everything in place from 2018, it also declined though having initially positive as it had some political backing. However, eventually it left the room as well.
Birmingham proved how to provide a great experience but whilst it made it work in every way in 2022, the city is now in a financial state that it will not enable them to even contemplate the Games again for some years.
So, Australia is out, Canada which was to host in 2030 has now also pulled out hence 2026 was a
non-starter and South Africa was never a realistic possibility for a variety of finance and infrastructural reasons. Malaysia was the next target but even after being offered £100 million to help the cause, it has
also declined.
The pattern is obvious now and it’s mainly due to the evitable costs. Or so I thought until I read comments made by an ex International Olympic Committee member and I quote.
‘Good, bad and the ugly’
Terrence Burns, who since leaving his role as an IOC marketing executive has played a key part in five successful Olympic bid city campaigns, told AFP his “first thought is they CGF (Commonwealth Games Federation) have a brand problem.
“This means two things in my world: one, a lack of differentiation of competitive products, and two, a lack of or declining relevancy for its core target audience.
“Without either of those core brand principles, no product or service has much hope of success or longevity.”
Burns has been quoted as saying the Commonwealth Games faced a huge challenge to keep its core audience and attract a new one.
“The event, sport, and entertainment space is multi-fold more competitive for consumers’ attentions than even 10 years ago,” he said.
“The novelty of seeing all these nations come together in one place at one time has been muted by the internet and technology’s ability for one to literally carry the world – and all human history in the world – in one’s pocket.
“We tend to yawn at wonder now, which is a crying shame to me.”
“They need to understand the good, bad, and the ugly to have a place from which they can start,” he said.
“So, does it have a future? Let’s start with the fact it does have a vibrant and glorious past — but that past only exists within a market segment that is forever limited by its very name — the Commonwealth Games.
“By definition, it is not meant for anyone else.”
“As long as I can recall, more than half a century, people have been asking whether the Commonwealth Games were finished,” he said.
“Each time they have come back and staged successful editions, (like) 2022 Birmingham, and in 2006 Melbourne.”
Is there a message here, has the Commonwealth as a whole changed over the years? Whilst there were 70 countries that participated at Birmingham, bringing 5,000 athletes to the city and was wonderfully successful the reality is the Commonwealth as an institution has come under intense scrutiny over
the years.
Is there any hope? Yes, there is, and it rests at the moment with Singapore. This small nation would, I believe, dearly love to take on the Games as host nation but it only has 60% of the needed infrastructure to be viable. For instance, there is no velodrome an essential venue for cycling which is a staple sport for the CWG but that is only one of the obstacles it faces. Can Singapore overcome the barriers and embrace the Games as a premier sport event then it could happen.
I hope they do but to do so they need to migrate some sports to another country and that could be Malaysia. Proximity wise it could work and the burden of taking on all the costs could be offset to a degree but the ability to work out a solution is time limited. Also, Malasia has already turned it down.
Two years is a small window to bring it all together and it might mean some sports having to be eliminated to make the venture a success. If it came down to that would the CGF be agreeable? Not sure, but probably if they want it to happen at all. It would also give them time to reposition the CGW in the global sport marketplace.
The Games for our sport is essential with bowls not in the Olympics and if we are to be honest, there is little chance of it ever being included. Yes, I know the door to the IOC has been hammered many times over the decades, but I have been in meetings at World Bowls level and it has been, at best, a wish list objective. Many have travelled far and wide but sadly have failed. That has not been due to World Bowls efforts it just appears the IOC don’t see bowls as a world sport with sufficient traction to be included in their family.
So those bowlers that are working and playing for a place in the 2026 Games may lose out but not yet. The CG Federation are not to be underestimated. They will continue to seek out a venue that will work for everyone and so they should. This will be the first Games for King Charles so all must be done to make it happen.
Personally, I believe it is the premier outdoor bowls event. Its inclusiveness across many sports and countries makes it unique as an experience and is one that when you ask anyone that has been lucky enough to have been involved in any capacity will absolutely agree.
Since 1930, when the event was called The Empire Games, it has provided so many opportunities to thousands of athletes to enjoy. We can only hope the 23rd edition not only happens but revitalises the concept to be more acceptable as a commercial and sports proposition.
The words of Katie Sadleir, the CEO of the CGF, gives hope to everyone when she says: ‘’Time is pressing but intensive efforts are under way. The process to determine a host for the 2026 Games is continuing at pace with interested Commonwealth Games Associations (CGAs).”
Time will tell but a positive announcement is needed soon for all those potentially involved.

FOOTNOTE: Views expressed by David Corkill do not always necessarily represent those of the team at Bowls International.

Caption: The Commonwealth Games 2022 bowls events were stayed at Royal Leamington Spa, Credit: Allen Simms

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