Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games Was Nothing More Than a Political Football

23 August 2023

3.4 MINS

The decision by the Victorian Labor government to cancel the 2026 Commonwealth Games is a major blow to the regional communities — promised world-class sporting events and infrastructure — and an assault on the reputation of the state; indeed the nation.

The Games had been scheduled to showcase regional Victoria, with major events in Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Shepparton, and the Latrobe Valley.

Just weeks ago, the Victorian government published its budget, which put the expenditure on the Games at $2.6 billion (US$1.77 billion). It is unbelievable that the cost could blow out to almost $7 billion in just a couple of weeks.

The decision to seek the Games — and the jettisoning of them — reeks of political opportunism.

It was during COVID-19 — when Premier Daniel Andrews was concerned about his chances of winning the 2022 election — that the idea of the regional Commonwealth Games was born.

The announcement became a central plank in the Labor Party’s election campaign in regional Victoria.

Having milked the Games for all it was worth at the state election less than a year ago, the secretive Andrews government has shamelessly abandoned the very regional areas it courted with the promise of a massive injection of facilities and sporting tourism.

What was once a “profound investment” in regional Victoria is now an unaffordable cost.

There are few other episodes in recent Australian politics that match the callous nature of this decision.

The government’s seeming indifference to the regions will be long remembered.

All Due to Poor Planning and Management

This disaster is Mr Andrews’s own making. One of two conclusions can be drawn.

Either the costs were far more than envisaged, in which case the Victorian government has been hiding the reality, especially during the last election and in this year’s budget.

Or the real cost is not what the government now claims — a view expressed by some of the sporting bodies who question the $6.7 billion figure the premier used to justify the cancellation.

The Commonwealth Games Federation claims it was told in June that the cost was less than half what the government now says.

The last Commonwealth Games in Birmingham cost just $1.5 billion, and the 2018 Gold Coast Games $1.8 billion.

If the cost is now so high, why were queries about it ignored? And to what extent has the massive bonus payments to workers on state government projects, which has forced up the price of labour generally, been a significant factor?

Once politics became the overwhelming consideration for the Victorian government, the difficulties multiplied.

Contrary to advice, the government added more venues to the schedule — no doubt to secure votes.

Why didn’t the government opt for a scaled-back venture, staging some of the more expensive sports at existing facilities in Melbourne, as it was asked to do by the Games officials?

A clear example was track cycling which could have been conducted on the existing velodrome at Olympic Park rather than constructing an expensive, temporary velodrome in regional Bendigo. Melbourne already has the best sporting infrastructure possibly of any city in the world.

According to news reports, these suggestions were rejected by the government.

There was no consultation about the possible cancellation with Commonwealth Games organisers prior to the announcement.

By rescheduling some events to Melbourne, other events could have still been staged in regional centres in a revamped and less expensive format.

The cancellation reveals the true level of state debt, which is forecast to be $135.4 billion in 2024, rising to $171.4 billion by 2026-27.

Yet this was already revealed in the government’s May budget.

It would seem that Mr Andrews presumed he could extract the additional funds from the federal government, but this was rejected.

In fact, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pointedly refused to comment when questioned about the Victorian government’s decision. It has been revealed that Premier Andrews informed Mr Albanese of his decision by text message!

If the cost of the Games was really more than twice that posited in the budget just a few weeks ago, how many other budget figures are suspect?

Episode Bodes Poorly for the Commonwealth Games’ Future

As other states have rejected suggestions to date that they stage the Commonwealth Games, the chances of the Games being conducted in 2026 are slim. The best chance is Western Australia, where the Perth Lord Mayor is an enthusiast for hosting the event.

Tens of thousands of athletes globally have just had their dreams thwarted by this decision. For young, upcoming athletes, in particular, the loss of an opportunity to experience international competition is particularly devastating.

Indeed, the decision may be the death knell for the Games, which began as the British Empire Games in 1930. In 1954, they were renamed the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, and then the Commonwealth Games in 1974.

Whether any other Commonwealth nation will offer to host future Games is moot.

And Daniel Andrews won’t even apologise for this fiasco.

Further, any international sporting organisation will question the security of its agreement to stage major events in Victoria following this debacle.

How confident can they be in the Victorian government’s assurances about other sporting events, such as the future Boxing Day cricket tests and the President’s Golf Cup?

What is the long-term future of the Australian Open?

These questions should not even be asked — but the decision by Premier Andrews poses such queries.

___

Originally published in the Epoch Times Australia. Photo by Tembela Bohle.

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