Downing Street wants viable solution for 2026 Commonwealth Games

18 Jul 2023 10:28pm
Australia's Maddison Keeney and Australia's Li Shixin compete in the final of the mixed 3m and 10m team diving event during the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka on July 18, 2023. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)
Australia's Maddison Keeney and Australia's Li Shixin compete in the final of the mixed 3m and 10m team diving event during the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka on July 18, 2023. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)
LONDON - Downing Street has said it hoped a "viable solution” can be found for the 2026 Commonwealth Games to be held in Australia, insisting the idea of the UK stepping in to host the event was "getting slightly ahead of ourselves”.

Victoria’s state premier Daniel Andrews announced its withdrawal on Tuesday, citing a substantial rise in predicted staging costs.

"This is a disappointing outcome for both fans and athletes,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

"We hope that the Victoria state government, the Games Federation and Commonwealth Games Australia will now work together to find a viable solution to hosting the event in 2026.”

It remains to be seen whether a UK city or region comes forward to offer itself as a replacement, as was the case when the global governing body, the Commonwealth Games Federation, stripped South African city Durban of the hosting rights for 2022 back in 2017.

Birmingham ultimately won the race to stage those Games, with the Government announcing in 2019 that the event would cost £778 million (US$1 billion) to stage in total, split 75-25 between central Government and Birmingham City Council.

Asked if the Government would encourage a home nation to step in to host the 2026 event, the spokesman said: "We are getting slightly ahead of ourselves.

"In the first instance, it’s for those bodies and groups I’ve just mentioned to have those discussions and see if a solution can be found.

"Obviously the UK has been honoured to host the Games twice in the past decade (Birmingham 2022 and Glasgow 2014) so we will see what comes out of those initial discussions.”

Victoria’s decision to pull out has been heavily criticised, with Commonwealth Games Australia chief executive Craig Phillips angrily rejecting Andrews’ claims around cost as a "gross exaggeration” and saying Victoria had "wilfully ignored” recommendations to use purpose-built venues in Melbourne in favour of pursuing expensive, temporary venues in the state provinces.

He also dismissed Andrews’ assertion that Victoria had stepped in to host at the last minute, and said the government’s actions had jeopardised Melbourne and Victoria’s status as "a sporting capital of the world”.

Phillips said in a statement published on the CGA website: "The multi-city model for delivering Victoria 2026 was an approach proposed by the Victorian Government, in accordance with the strategic roadmap of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

"It was pitched to the CGF after Commonwealth Games Australia had sought interest to host the Games from several states. They did not step in as hosts at the last minute, as indicated by the Premier earlier today.

"The detailed budgetary implications announced today have not been sighted or discussed with the CGF or CGA ahead of being notified of the Government’s decision.

"The stated costs overrun, in our opinion, are a gross exaggeration and not reflective of the operational costs presented to the Victoria 2026 Organising Committee board as recently as June.

"Beyond this, the Victorian Government wilfully ignored recommendations to move events to purpose-built stadia in Melbourne and in fact remained wedded to proceeding with expensive temporary venues in regional Victoria.”

He added: "The Victorian Government... has jeopardised Melbourne and Victoria’s standing as a sporting capital of the world.”

Andrews said at a press conference earlier on Tuesday that the original budget for the Victoria Games was 2.6 billion Australian dollars (US$1.8 billion) and added: "I’ve made a lot of difficult decisions in this job. This is not one of them.

"It’s just quite obvious, we are not going to spend six to seven billion dollars on a 12-day sporting event.

"We don’t just make popular decisions - we do what’s right and it would simply be wrong.”

The CGF said it had received just eight hours’ notice of Victoria’s intention to withdraw, and described the decision to pull out as "hugely disappointing”.

The CGF’s statement added: "Since awarding Victoria the Games, the Government has made decisions to include more sports and an additional regional hub, and changed plans for venues, all of which have added considerable expense, often against the advice of the Commonwealth Games Federation and Commonwealth Games Australia.

"We are disappointed that we were only given eight hours’ notice and that no consideration was given to discussing the situation to jointly find solutions prior to this decision being reached by the Government.

"Up until this point, the Government had advised that sufficient funding was available to deliver the Victoria 2026 Commonwealth Games.”

Victoria was set to be the first host to benefit from a new ‘roadmap’ for staging Games, designed to reduce costs and increase flexibility.

The number of compulsory sports had been reduced from 16 to just two (athletics and swimming), there was no requirement on hosts to build a bespoke athletes’ village and hosts were encouraged to make use of existing facilities wherever possible.

The national Commonwealth federations of England, Scotland and Wales expressed their disappointment at the news concerning Victoria.

Commonwealth Games England described the news as "hugely unsettling” for athletes.

Rowan Crothers, an Australian para-swimmer, highlighted the uniqueness of the Games, where para-sports events sit alongside non-disabled competition.

"Seeing the Games cancelled will suck for the state of inclusion,” he wrote on Twitter.

"For some athletes, a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games means more than a gold medal at the Paralympics - it’s not just a similar level, it’s the exact same thing the able-bods get. Recognition and equality can mean more than achievement.” -Bernama-PA Media/dpa