The future of the Commonwealth Games is in jeopardy today after Victoria’s left-wing Australian leader pulled the plug on hosting the event in 2026.
State Premier Daniel Andrews said canceling the sports festival was not a difficult decision as costs had tripled to 7 billion Australian dollars (£3.6 billion).
But critics claim it was a political decision and caused an international embarrassment, tarnishing Australia’s reputation for hosting sporting events and hampering the future of the Commonwealth Games.
Mr Andrews, an avowed republican who argued in 2016 that Queen Elizabeth II should be replaced by an Australian head of state, said: ‘Last year when the Commonwealth Games Authority approached us and said they needed someone to host the 2026 Commonwealth Games. A state we are happy to help, but certainly not at any cost. I’ve made a lot of tough decisions in this job, this is not one of them.’
He said the games don’t represent value for money. ‘It’s quite clear, we’re 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’s just wrong.’
But Commonwealth Games Australia boss Craig Phillips claimed Andrews and his officials had repeatedly ignored advice for the 12-day sporting event, adding more sports and temporary sites instead of using existing facilities.
Mr Phillips also said Andrews was ‘grossly overstating’ the cost of staging the event, which was first held in 1930. Experts fear the debacle could be the final nail in the coffin of the Games, which has also been marred by anti-royal sentiment. And several countries are becoming republics or starting that journey.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has blamed the cost blowout for the decision to cancel the Commonwealth Games – despite being warned on several occasions of the huge hit.
Spectators react in the crowd during the opening ceremony of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games
Prince Charles chats with Year Ten students from Geelong Grammar ahead of the 2005 Games in Australia
Princess of Wales, then Duchess of Cambridge, with Prince Harry at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014
Sports stars and coaches have also condemned the decision to pull the plug on the 2026 Commonwealth Games.
The original budget for the games was estimated at around $2.6 billion (£1.3 billion) but has ballooned to nearly three times that.
Mr Andrews said they had held ‘cordial discussions’ with Commonwealth authorities in London and would continue discussions with them on Tuesday morning.
He said: ‘It is not in the interest of taxpayers and it is not appropriate for me to speculate and discuss with people from the other side of the world at a press conference here today.
‘In the meantime we will let our team in London work on these matters.’
Mr Andrews said the estimates were ‘clearly under the actual cost’.
The Victorian State Government is instead going to use the budgeted money to improve sports complexes and housing in regional Victoria.
The 2026 Commonwealth Games were to be held in regional Victoria across cities such as Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat, Gippsland and Shepparton.
Following the announcement, the mayor of Perth, Western Australia, Basil Zempilas, called for the Games to come to the city.
He wrote on Twitter: ‘Commonwealth Games… It’s not often you get a second chance like this @CityofPerth.
‘Here’s how it works – we tell @thecgf how much we’ll pay. We call them ‘here’s our venue’ you make your games fit what we have.
‘Perth is in the driver’s seat and they need us.’
Australia hosted the Games in Gold Coast in 2018 and in Melbourne in 2006.
Commonwealth Games Australia boss Craig Phillips launched a scathing attack on Victorian Labor and Mr Andrews, saying he first heard the Games would be axed during a phone call on Tuesday morning.
He said: ‘In our opinion the costs quoted are a gross exaggeration and are not reflective of the operational costs presented to the Victorian 2026 Organizing Committee in June this year.
‘The Victorian Government… has threatened Melbourne and Victoria’s position as a sporting capital of the world.
‘Going back to existing venues, particularly here in Melbourne, (we’ve) talked about the velodrome before. But the Victorian government told us very clearly, ‘Not interested’.
‘(It’s) absolutely embarrassing. Even the most recent figures from a global survey of sports cities, if you will, Melbourne has already dropped from 10th to 23rd.
‘After today’s announcement I can’t see it going north and I will be very careful if I were to come and do business with any international sports organization in the state in the future.’
‘This decision is a betrayal of regional Victoria and confirms that Victoria is broken and Labor simply cannot manage major projects without huge costs,’ Liberal Leader John Pesuto and National Leader Peter Walsh said in a statement.
‘The cancellation of the Commonwealth Games is hugely damaging to Victoria’s reputation as a world event leader.’
The Victorian government is said to have repeatedly ignored warnings that the cost of hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games would be blown out of proportion.
Premier Daniel Andrews announced the cancellation of the event on Tuesday morning, the reason behind the state’s push into finance problems, with debt forecast to hit $135.4 billion in 2024, up from $171.4 billion by 2026-27.
The hosting rights for the 2026 event were awarded to regional Victoria last year after none of the 70 Commonwealth Games Federation nations put their hands up.
In a dramatic press conference, Mr Andrews said: ‘What has become clear is that the allocated cost of hosting these games is not $2.6 billion, it is at least $6 billion or $7 billion.’
Aussie Commonwealth Games medalists (left to right) Molly O’Callaghan, Ariarne Titmuss and Maddison Wilson will not get a chance to repeat their heroics in Victoria in 2026
Now an events industry veteran has revealed the Andrews government was warned that spreading the event to regional areas rather than just Melbourne would put costs through the roof.
‘But the Victorian government will not be told,’ the official – who chose to remain anonymous – told The Australian.
‘With the Games being held in so many different regional venues, the cost is going to be fivefold [of holding it in Melbourne only].
Another source told the publication, ‘Event industry professionals raised their eyebrows as to why you would leave so many world-class venues empty.
‘They had all the infrastructure in and around Melbourne.’
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ decision to ax the 2026 Commonwealth Games could be the final nail in the international sporting event’s coffin.
Its long-term future is now under cloud, with Games chiefs vehemently denying Victoria’s estimate of $6 billion to stage the event.
They are concerned that the Premier’s budget estimates will prevent anyone else from taking the hosting rights.
But experts warned 18 months ago that the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games could be over after global interest in hosting the event disappeared in recent years.
The 2022 Games were originally planned to be held in Durban, South Africa, but the city’s plans were scrapped due to concerns about costs spiraling out of control.
‘We gave it our best shot, but we can’t go beyond that,’ admitted South African sports minister Fikile Mbalula at the time.
‘If the country says we don’t have this money, we can’t [host it].’
Birmingham, the UK’s second-largest city, stepped in to take over the 2022 event if none of the 70 Commonwealth Games Federation nations showed interest in hosting it.
The city in the English Midlands was originally scheduled to host the Games in 2026, which then left organizers desperate to fill another new gap in the schedule.
A lack of interest in the event continued when in 2019 a ceremony to announce the host of the 2026 and 2030 Games in Rwanda had to be canceled due to a lack of willing participants.
Another similar hosting announcement in 2020 was also canceled due to the Covid pandemic.
Games organizers were then forced to skip the usual request for bids and instead went directly to Victoria to ask the state to host the quadrennial extravaganza.
Premier Andrews agreed at the time that it would be held in regional Victoria rather than Melbourne to boost the rural economy.
But Mr Andrews said on Tuesday that the expected cost of $6-7 billion was beyond what the budget could afford or justify for the 12-day sporting event.
Commonwealth Games Australia insisted on Tuesday that the budget blowout was inaccurate and not a true reflection of how much it would cost to stage the event.
The Commonwealth Games Federation said it had received eight hours’ notice that the Games contract would be terminated and had not discussed a solution with the government before reaching the decision.
It said the Victorian government had made the Games more expensive by including too many sports and an additional regional hub, often against advice.
The decision has now thrown the entire future of the Games into doubt.
In its 93-year history, the event has almost always been hosted in the United Kingdom, Australia/New Zealand and Canada, with Jamaica, India and Malaysia being the only other single hosts.
With Victoria now pulling the plug on 2026, there are concerns about who will be able to quickly fill the void and the message it will send to future hosts.
‘This means that we now obviously have to find ourselves a host that will work with the CGF,’ Commonwealth Games Australia CEO Craig Phillips said on Tuesday.
‘Whether it could be in Australia… we’re certainly interested in talking to any state that might be hungry to host the Games.
‘We will do everything we can to ensure that the numbers produced by the Victorian Government today are not taken at face value.
‘This is certainly not a strong indication of what the actual value of the game will be.’
Canada was widely predicted to host the 2030 event to mark the Games’ 100th anniversary, returning to Hamilton, Ontario, the original site of the first Games in 1930.
Because of the centenary celebrations, the city is unlikely to be ready to move the Games forward to 2026 to fill the void created by Victoria.
As one analyst predicted in 2022, when Birmingham stepped in to replace Durban, ‘it looks like the whole thing could collapse unless something is decided quickly’.
Jack Revell wrote in The Latch in February 2022: ‘There appears to be little interest from many of Britain’s former colonies.
‘After 92 years, only three countries are interested in keeping the sports event of the tired empire alive, and even then, only in a pinch.
‘While top-level international sporting events such as the Olympics and FIFA World Cup attract more attention with each round, second-tier events such as the Commonwealth Games may soon be seen as too much hassle to bother with.’