The Australian state of Victoria will not host the 2026 Commonwealth Games, after state Premier Daniel Andrews said the cost had skyrocketed and he was not prepared to redirect the money from other parts of his government’s budget to make up the shortfall.
Tuesday’s sudden announcement means that with less than three years to go, one of the major events on many athletes’ calendars is now on hold.
Victoria’s decision to abandon the Games just over a year after announcing the event to great fanfare is just the sorry latest chapter of the Commonwealth Games as it struggles for hosts – and relevance.
What happened at the Commonwealth Games and why?
The head of the Australian state of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, said his decision was simply a matter of cost. It’s only 17 years since Victoria last hosted a Commonwealth Games, so when her government announced its bid, it said it would be “different”. The government planned to hold the event at five regional venues and mostly outside the big city of Melbourne.
In April last year, when Andrews thanked the Games organizers for accepting his bid, he acknowledged it might be more difficult than other editions. “I’m sure from their point of view it’s a bit riskier than just running it in the middle of a big city,” he said.
On Tuesday, Andrews said the cost of accommodation exceeded his expectations. “What has become clear is that the cost of hosting these Games in 2026 is not the $2.6bn (£1.3bn) that has been budgeted and allocated,” did he declare. “It’s actually at least $6 billion and could be as high as $7 billion.”
Commonwealth Games Australia chief executive Craig Phillips said he considered the claimed cost overrun to be “a gross exaggeration”.
He added that “the Victorian Government deliberately ignored recommendations to move events to purpose-built stadiums in Melbourne and in fact remained committed to pursuing costly temporary venues in the Victoria area.”
Andrews said the government would still build the sports facilities it had promised to regional communities, but would not take money from other parts of the budget, such as health, to stage the games.
Who should pay for the Games?
The Government of Victoria had for some time faced questions over how the Games would be paid for. $2.6 billion was initially allocated, but in the state’s May budget, no additional funding was set aside.
A row over funding with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s federal government doesn’t seem to have helped matters.
While the federal government’s budget in May included over $1 billion for the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, nothing was allocated for the 2026 Commonwealth Games. Andrews vowed not to leave the Commonwealth ” unhook” help to fund the event.
In June, Federal Sports Minister Anika Wells told the Guardian’s Australian Politics podcast that the Albanian government was “still working with the Victorian government on its proposal for federal support”.
What next for the 2026 Games?
Hours after Victoria’s announcement, neighboring New South Wales – whose state capital Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympics – said it would not intervene, citing budgetary pressures. Leaders of other Australian states, except Queensland, have also rejected the idea.
It’s unclear whether a new host can be found in time, but the Games have recently been successful in finding cities willing and able to host on short notice.
In 2015, the South African city of Durban won the 2022 Games after its only competitor in the bid – the Canadian city of Edmonton – pulled out due to cost concerns.
However, just two years later, the city was stripped of hosting rights after failing to deliver on the promises in its bid. Like Andrews, South Africa’s sports minister cited financial constraints, saying: “We’ve done our best but we can’t go beyond that. If the country says we don’t have that money, we can’t.
In 2017, Birmingham and the UK government stepped in to save the 2022 Games. The UK government paid over £560million to ensure the Games could be held in the West Midlands city, and the local council invested an additional £190m.
Birmingham was due to host the 2026 Games and so the 2022 decision left a hole in the schedule. The Commonwealth Games Federation was due to announce the 2026 host city in 2019, but the decision was delayed to 2020, then again to 2021, then again to 2022.
For the 2026 race, Kuala Lumpur, Cardiff, Calgary, Edmonton and Adelaide all withdrew from proposed bids over cost concerns, leaving Victoria as the only viable candidate.
Is it just a matter of money?
In recent years, criticism of the Games has extended beyond the mere financial burden. The Games’ colonial origins – they were once known as the British Empire Games – have also been a point of contention, as has their failure to appeal to younger audiences.
Dame Louise Martin, president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, said she recognized the Games needed to adapt and modernize in order to maintain their “relevance”, but the Games now faced the task of finding a new host for 2026, while at all while getting a host for their centenary in 2030.
Ahead of the Birmingham games last year, British Olympic diver Tom Daley also condemned homophobia in many Commonwealth countries.
Out of 56 Member States, 35 criminalize homosexual relations, which represents half of the countries in the world that prohibit homosexuality. Seven Commonwealth countries have a maximum sentence of life imprisonment under laws imposed by Britain in the 19th century when it was a colonial power.