The politics of bidding for the Commonwealth Games in 2022

 

Hampden park

George Black, Visiting Professor, IPPI

George Black
Visiting Professor, International Public Policy Institute
george.black@strath.ac.uk 

21st August 2017

The next few months are shaping up to be a crucial period for the Commonwealth Games.  Plans for the 2018 Games in the Gold Coast, Australia are in their final phase, and competition to host the 2022 Games is well advanced.

Transport concerns for 2018

While preparations are generally progressing well, the big concern for the Gold Coast will undoubtedly be transport arrangements during games time.  The Queensland public are used to driving to sporting venues and parking nearby. Persuading spectators to switch to rail will be a major challenge, not to mention dealing with practical issues such as the ensuring there are sufficient numbers of trains and train drivers. The fact that the Gold Coast is a linear city severely limits the scope for alternative arrangements.

Contenders for 2022

As regards the 2022 Games – Australia, Canada, England and Malaysia have all maintained an interest. Although Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney have shown an interest it seems unlikely that the Games will be awarded to an Australian city in 2018 and 2022. In the case of Canada, both Edmonton and Toronto have ruled themselves out, leaving Victoria as a possible contender. The key issues will be whether government funding can be secured, particularly for cost overruns, and whether there is sufficient public support.

That leaves Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as a potential contender, although they may prefer to wait until 2026, and England which has Birmingham and Liverpool competing to host the 2022 Games – and  both seem well placed to host them and could be considered a “safe bet”, surely a key consideration for the Commonwealth Games Federation.

Birmingham v Liverpool

Birmingham has the vast majority of venues already in use, although it plans to refurbish the Alexander athletics stadium and increase the permanent capacity from 12,700 to 25,000, with a temporary capacity of 40,000 during the Games. The stadium is currently the home of UK Athletics.  In contrast, Liverpool’s bid is centred on the continuing regeneration of its docks, in particular the King’s Dock site, with a new swimming pool to be built close to the Albert Dock, and the use of Everton FC’s planned new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock for athletics. Manchester’s velodrome would be used for track cycling.

Both Birmingham and Liverpool plan to build an athletes village, which would be used for housing after the Games, similar to the Glasgow model. However, in the timescales now available, this will be a real challenge for both cities.

Inter-city rivalry

An unusual feature of the competition between Birmingham and Liverpool is the comments made by each city about the other’s bid. It is normally an unwritten rule of the competition that cities do not comment on other bids. However, Liverpool has publicly questioned whether Birmingham needs the investment, and whether their bid will leave a meaningful legacy, highlighting its proposed waterfront legacy. Birmingham responded robustly to accusations that its bid was not as bold or creative as Liverpool’s.

In the middle of this posturing, Liverpool received a boost by being voted the best in the UK for sports fans, Manchester came second, while Birmingham was placed eleventh.

But, perhaps this intense rivalry is not surprising. After all, if either Birmingham or Liverpool are successful in bidding to host the 2022 Games, the unsuccessful city is unlikely to be awarded the 2026 Games. This is because the Commonwealth Games Federation have never awarded back to back Games to the same country. This is the same dilemma that Australia faces in competing to host the 2022 Games on the back of the 2018 Games.

Politics

But, of course, at this point in time the English bids are to the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), not the Commonwealth Games Federation. And it is the UK DCMS Secretary of State who will make the final decision between the two English city bids. The question is, if the UK Government receives two credible bids will the final decision ultimately come down to politics? And, if so, will the fact that the Mayor of West Midlands is a Tory, help tip the balance?