The 2022 Commonwealth Games and beyond

Hampden park

George Black, Visiting Professor, IPPI

George Black
Visiting Professor, International Public Policy Institute

Tuesday 28 March 2017 

Earlier this month (March 2017), the Commonwealth Games Federation took the decision to strip Durban of the rights to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games. One of the main reasons was the financial constraints imposed by the South African Government, whose Sports Minister said “we gave it our best shot but we can’t go beyond. If the country says we don’t have this money, we can’t.”

Does this come as a major surprise? Probably not.

National governments under financial pressure

Large multi-sports events such as the Commonwealth Games can only take place with the support of government funding, and sometimes a mix of national, state and local government funding, and  underpinned by national government guarantees. And, although on the face of it, this should give greater certainty of funding, governments at all levels are exposed to economic downturns, particularly since the 2008 global financial crisis. So, financial certainty is not as assured as it may at first appear.

Look no further than Edmonton in the state of Alberta, Canada, which originally expressed an interest in bidding for the 2022 Games, but withdrew just before the date on which bids had to be lodged, citing a fall in tax revenues as a result of the collapse in oil prices.

In the case of the 2014 Games in Glasgow, bids required to be lodged by May 2007, just around the time of the crisis in the sub-prime mortgage market in USA, and the rescue package for UK banks took place about a year after Glasgow had been awarded the Games. At that time the view was taken that the Games had become even more important to Glasgow because of the positive impact they would have on jobs and the economy.

Commonwealth Games’ costs have peaked

Not long after, the growth in the scale and cost of the Games was seen to have peaked at the 2010 Games in Delhi, which had a reported budget of £2.5 billion, exceeding the cost of the previous Games in Melbourne which had a reported budget of £1.5 billion. In comparison, the Glasgow Games had a budget of £575 million. Of course, direct comparisons between countries is difficult as a result of fluctuations in exchange rates, and differences in the cost of labour and supplies. But, even allowing for this, it is clear that there had been a significant scaling down in budgets.

This trend was continued in the Gold Coast Australia, which has a budget of around £650 million, and the proposed budget for the Durban Games was even lower at around £500 million. Even if a city has most of the required facilities in place, it is difficult to see the overall cost coming down much further.

Are Games worth it? All about the legacy

So, arguably the issue is not about whether the cost of the Games is excessive, but rather it whether they are affordable in the current circumstances, and whether the cost can be justified compared to being spent on health or education etc.

Under these circumstances, it is even more important that the legacy benefits of the Games are planned in advance and are closely aligned to government policies regarding economic growth, increased physical activity, environmental improvements, and strengthened connections at home and overseas.

More cities stepping up to the plate

Having said that, there now appears to be no shortage of cities prepared to consider stepping in at short notice to host the 2022 Games, which is a little surprising given that Durban was the sole bidder for the event following the withdrawal of Edmonton. Australian cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide have all expressed an interest, as have English cities such as London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool. Interest has also been shown by Asian cities such as Delhi and Kuala Lumpur. And some of these cities are also considering bidding to host the 2026 Games.

So at the present, the future of the Games looks secure, but is there more that can be done to avoid the situation of cities being reluctant to bid for the Games or dropping out from hosting them  in the future. At the very least, a review should be carried out of the rules and process for bidding for the Games.

Informed Games’ bids: a network of Games’ cities and building a body of evidence

In the meantime, there are two practical initiatives which could help strengthen interest in hosting the Games. The first would be to form a network of cities which have recently bid or would consider bidding in the future. This would allow past experience to be more widely shared, both formally and informally. The second would be to compile a body of evidence on the main issues which need to be taken into account before any decision is made as to whether to bid or not. This would help avoid the need for expensive feasibility studies, and ensure bidding cities are going into the process with their eyes wide open.