Sun setting on the Commonwealth Games: Is it time to say goodbye to the event?

Welcome to Game Points, a newsletter on Indian sports by The Field.

Sun setting on the Commonwealth Games: Is it time to say goodbye to the event?

By Dilip Unnikrishnan

On October 14, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that India would make a bid to host the 2036 Summer Olympic Games.

The announcement came months after sports minister Anurag Thakur asserted that India’s “top global infrastructure” gave it the capacity to host the world’s biggest sporting event.

But when asked if India would bid for the 2026 Commonwealth Games, Thakur promptly replied that it has no interest in doing so. Is it simply that the Commonwealth Games do not match the scale of India’s global ambitions? 

The Commonwealth Games is a multi-sport event for countries that were a part of the British Empire. With athletes from 72 nations and territories, the Commonwealth Games is the biggest multi-sports event in the world after the Summer Olympics and the Asian Games. 

First held in 1930 as the British Empire Games, the quadrennial event took its current name after the majority of the colonised nations achieved independence from Britain. But as it closes in on a centenary year in 2030, the event seems to have lost its sheen and its ability to find hosts. 

In July, the Australian state of Victoria pulled out of hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games citing rising costs. Australia’s Gold Coast, host of the 2018 edition, made a last-ditch bid to step in. But earlier this month, it scrapped its plans too after being denied federal funding.

With less than two years to go for the 2026 edition, the Commonwealth Games finds itself without any takers. The costs are just too high.

Gold Coast spent approximately $1.3 billion to organise the 2018 edition of the event. Victoria state calculated the costs at up to $4.6 billion.

Victoria was right to be concerned about pumping so much money into an event that would not rake in nearly as much revenue as the Olympics or the Fifa Men’s World Cup. 

No doubt, Victoria’s administrators looked at the case of Birmingham in the United Kingdom: the host of the 2022 Games declared bankruptcy less than a year after the event ended. (Ironically, Birmingham became the host after Durban, in South Africa, was stripped of the hosting rights due to financial constraints.)

The high costs and relatively low returns has meant that the Games have only been held in a small group of nations. The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have hosted the majority of the Games. Outside of these four, only Jamaica (1966), Malaysia (1998) and India (2010) have organised an edition. 

The fact that the Commonwealth Games are exclusionary by virtue of its membership means that it is not open to the biggest sporting talents. Events often lack a high level of competition. Lopsided competition rarely attracts the fans.

Take the case of wrestling. Canada and India have dominated the sport at the Games, winning 261 medals between them. Australia has similarly dominated swimming, emerging as the best nation in 18 of the 22 editions and has won 330 of the 642 gold medals across editions.

Adding to organisers’ woes, superstar athletes often stay away, choosing to focus on the Olympics and World Championships. This also makes it more difficult to sell the Games to sponsors. For instance, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, a winner of eight Olympic gold medals, has only competed at a single Commonwealth Games edition: in 2014, he ran in the men’s 4x100 m relay.

The Birmingham Games were devoid of Olympic athletics champions Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson and Andre de Grasse who opted instead to rest after the World Championships.

Above all, the Commonwealth Games simply do not seem relevant anymore. They are the product of a bygone era when the event was created to celebrate the ill-gotten glory of a ruthless empire. Will it be a big loss if the event finally fades into oblivion?

Fun fact of the week: The Indian men’s cricket team’s tour of South Africa starts on December 10. The African nation remains the only country where India has not won a single TTest series. Ever since their first tour to the rainbow nation in 1992-’93, India has travelled to South Africa on eight occasions. Their best result so far has been a 1-1 draw in a three-match series back in 2010-’11.

Here's a recap of the top stories from this past week

Pro Kabaddi League: Thousand years old, going on 10 – the sport comes of age in its latest season

FIH Hockey Men’s Junior World Cup: Meet Vishnukanth Singh – India’s midfield metronome

England tour of India: Harmanpreet Kaur and Co look to start long home season on winning note

FIH Hockey Men’s Junior World Cup preview: India aim for third title – All you need to know

Fitness watch: Why women athletes are more prone to ACL injuries than men

Badminton: Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly talk through the steps on the long road ahead

Beacon for Indian badminton: Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty’s incredible season

Write a comment ...

Game Points by The Field

In the vast canvas of Indian sports, The Field provides a micro-level view across Olympic disciplines. It's not just the Games every four years that matter, every day, every month, every year does. Click the "Follow" button to receive our newsletter directly in your inbox.