Alberta, Victoria withdrawals ‘devastating blow’ for Commonwealth Games

By Aadi Nair and Karolos Grohmann

(Reuters) – The 2030 Commonwealth Games were tipped to be a glorious celebration of the competition’s centenary in Canada, the country which hosted the inaugural edition of the multi-sport quadrennial event a century ago.

But the future of the Games was thrown into doubt on Thursday when the province of Alberta withdrew its support for a bid, dealing another blow to the embattled Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF).

The announcement came weeks after Australian state Victoria pulled out of hosting the 2026 Games due to budget blowouts, while Hamilton, Ontario, which hosted the inaugural Games in 1930, suspended its bid earlier this year.

The withdrawals could have serious implications for the Games, experts told Reuters.

“I think it’s a devastating blow. It really raises very serious questions about the short-term and the long-term sustainability of these Games,” Australian sports historian Matthew Klugman said.

Victoria withdrew due to projected cost overruns, with Commonwealth Sport Canada saying it believed the Australian state’s decision had prompted Alberta’s pullout.

“The strongest reason (for the withdrawals) by far is financial. The expense to host a Commonwealth Games in any country is significant,” Cary Kaplan, president of Canadian marketing firm Cosmos Sports & Entertainment, told Reuters.

“Emerging from COVID … supporting these events, regionally or nationally, is harder than ever financially, which is a shame.

“There is less of an appetite among citizens for large international sporting events, and politicians are cognizant of that.”


With the global sports calendar bursting at the seams, organisers are battling for a share of the market, with longer events struggling to maintain an audience over several days.

Even continental multi-sports events that are also Olympic qualifiers, such as the European Games, face stiff competition.

“It’s clear that the Commonwealth Games has been declining in meaning, at least in the key English-speaking nations of Canada, Australia, and then Great Britain as well,” Klugman said.

The Commonwealth Games’ TV rights, the main driver of income for international sports events, pale in comparison with the soccer World Cup and the Olympics, leaving national and local governments facing budget deficits.

Organisers touted the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games as an “incredibly successful” event, with over 1.4 million tickets sold – but that figure is far surpassed by the Paris Olympics, which expects to sell close to 10 million tickets.

“The marketing footprint they are dealing with is a major challenge,” Michael Payne, a long-time former International Olympic Committee (IOC) marketing chief and current sports media strategist, told Reuters.

“They don’t have many major markets that can generate revenues in broadcasting. You have Canada, Australia, UK, unlike the Olympic Games where you have all the big markets.”


Despite the disparity, Payne said the Commonwealth Games could not be written off.

“Birmingham ended up being very successful. So rumours of the death are somewhat premature,” he said.

“The Games, when they are on in Britain, Australia or Canada, are successful sports TV programmes.”

The marketing around the Games is still of concern, with Kaplan describing its appeal for Canadian broadcasters and sponsors as “lukewarm”.

“Post (the death of) Queen Elizabeth, the relevance of the Commonwealth is in decline,” he added. “That will in turn erode the relevance of the Games unless the Commonwealth Games steps up its marketing and branding efforts in the years ahead.

“From a Canadian perspective, I don’t see a lot of talk about how important this event is. With these recent withdrawals – I think it should be a wake-up call…”

The Games’ colonial origins have also attracted criticism in recent years, and with the death of Queen Elizabeth, there is a feeling the event have run its course.

Scrapping the Games altogether may not be the best path forward, though, because it is still important for smaller nations.

“Rich countries who benefited from colonialism are now very possibly ending a sporting contest that has more meaning for countries whose wealth was extracted during colonialism,” Klugman said.

“(The Games) could be one of many different ways of trying to redistribute that wealth that came out of those colonial acts.”


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