Behind Blue Eyes - by Ed Warner

Posted: Wed, 02 Aug 2023 15:00

Behind Blue Eyes - by Ed Warner

Victoria's premier Daniel Andrews expertly channeled Kath of Kath & Kim fame with his "look at moi!" presser last week when he pulled the state out of hosting the Commonwealth Games. Behind his baleful blue eyes sat a brain programmed to local politics - and a truth about the 'friendly games' that must be addressed with urgency if they are to survive beyond 2026. Overblown and non-essential, they must be stripped down and redesigned to fit the modern football-mad age.

Katie Sadleir, Commonwealth Games Federation CEO, faces immediate twin challenges - to extract the maximum possible compensation payment from Andrews and to persuade the Australian national government of its duty to find an alternative host for three years' time. The two are intertwined, as any dollars wrung from Victoria can be rolled into the emergency successor.

The Aussies themselves need to decide whether they want the CWG to continue in any guise. Not just in 2026 but beyond. An affirmative answer is not a given, but without the quadrennial England v Australia medal table narrative, the Games are dead. And while it is unsurprising to hear the London mayor's office say he would be prepared to step in as host - with similar albeit muted signals from Birmingham and Glasgow - repeated editions in Great Britain would further erode the Games' status, while emphasising the British Empire origins that are part of their existential challenge.

Let's assume that Australia, embarrassed by Daniel Andrews' u-turn, does step up and find a solution for the next CWG. Seems to me that's a decent bet, even given the weakening allegiance to the British monarchy across the country. If anything, those looser emotional ties will likely strengthen the national pride that has been bruised by last week's decision - a nation that won't want to be seen to have simply walked away. What then for 2030, and how might 2026 be used as a first step towards a sunnier future?

The current CWG model places an enormous burden on local taxpayers. Invariably, host cities need support from central government. Hence the British city leaders' cautious enthusiasm to be saviours in 2026 is conditional on cash from Westminster, just as any Aussie rescue would need to be heavily funded from Canberra. Ticket revenues and income from local sponsorship deals fall far short of the costs of hosting - even if a city already has all the necessary facilities.

This does not mean the Commonwealth Games Federation is itself in financial clover. This organisation is no International Olympic Committee. The CGF's last accounts show a bare £6.9 million of reserves, having generated a modest £1.5 million surplus in 2022 - a Games year.

It is not creaming off rich global sponsor or broadcast revenues. Just £21.5 million of commercial income. Consequently it operates, of necessity, a near skeletal staff - an average of only 16 people last year. Which simply demonstrates that the CGF, and by extension its member national federations, has eyes that are far bigger than its stomach. Having aped the Olympics for far too long, the movement (as it likes to be known) has no excuse not to address frankly the scale of its ambitions for the Games.

An honest appraisal would recognise that the CWG caters for secondary sports (athletics, swimming, gymnastics, cycling and netball) and a string of tertiary ones; creates an opportunity for Team GB to be broken into its constituents nations; and provides a multi-sport experience for thousands of athletes who might never compete in the Olympics - either by virtue of the sport they excel in or the level of their own abilities.

All of which should rightly be a cause for celebration. It is the diversity that the Games offers that can and should be their distinguishing feature. Why not then open them up to more nations, not just those of old Empire, revise the roster of sports to ensure they are all highly relevant in the modern world, and open up hosting opportunities across the competing nations. All underpinned by sensible finances - use existing facilities, strip away costly flummery and make the athlete and spectator experience primarily about the sport not unnecessary padding.

This all requires a rebadging to sever the Commonwealth name from the Games, to open the event up to different sports and nations. Get that right - and by the way, 'friendly games' won't cut it - and you would then have the opportunity to brand a series of elite international events across the course of a summer, taking place in either a group of geographically proximate countries or even across the globe.

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