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Commonwealth Games

After Birmingham 2022, Commonwealth Games face uncertain future



Birmingham rock icons Black Sabbath fittingly capped a buzzing fortnight in England’s second city at the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony on Monday but it may be the last time the multi-sport event makes such a big noise.

Reliable hosts Australia and the country’s sports-mad fans will welcome the 2026 Games in the southern state of Victoria but it promises to be a much different affair to the Birmingham bash.

Not unlike this year’s hosts, Victoria did not plan to stage the Games as quickly as 2026 but rode in as a white knight to the rescue when no other city bid for them.

In a handover during the closing ceremony, Indigenous Australian elders issued a welcome to “Naarm”, the Aboriginal name for the land where Melbourne sits.

But barring the opening ceremony, the Games are set to skip the Victoria capital and cultural heart, and scatter the sports across multiple regional centres.

Officials have touted infrastructure improvements and new jobs created in sleepy rural areas among a range of benefits along with themes like meeting diversity and inclusion commitments.


But the disparate nature of the Games may mean they struggle to reproduce the atmosphere and fan engagement that drove Birmingham’s success as a singular urban hub.

Other familiar questions will dog the Games through the interim period.

Hosts Australia, who finished top of the medals table in Birmingham, will be certain to push its champions into competition, and most will willingly grab the chance to dominate their sports in front of home fans.

Whether other nations’ athletes fancy the long trip Down Under is doubtful, given the profile of the Games struggles to match that of other meets.

The women’s 100 metres at Birmingham could have been a showdown between Jamaican trio Elaine Thompson-Herah, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson, but only Thompson-Herah made the trip, with the others preferring a Diamond League meeting in Poland.


The 2018 Gold Coast Games were similarly given a wide berth by world class talent across a number of sports despite the lure of big crowds and shimmering beaches in the Queensland tourist mecca.

The cost of the Games and the dubious legacy benefits espoused by organisers have long drawn criticism, and even the Commonwealth Games Federation concedes that they must downsize to survive.

Organisers have tried to have the Games break from their colonial past but by their nature they remain rooted to the former British Empire and are seen as an anachronism in the post-colonial age.

Even in Australia, one of the Games’ staunchest supporters, progressive voices say they should be scrapped for failing to properly address the atrocities committed during colonial times.

Those criticisms are unlikely to fade with time but the Games are likely to plough on regardless.


Like 73-year-old Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne, they can still put on a show even if their best years are well behind them.


Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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