When Victoria announced it was dumping the 2026 Commonwealth Games like nuclear waste, it sent shock waves through the sporting world.
But it will be the second time in a row the originally anointed host destination hasn’t seen the Games to the finish line, after Durban was removed in 2022.
Victoria hardly had to beat off rival contenders, a far cry from the prize fight bidding war for the coveted Olympics.
Which begs the question — which event is preferable to host?
Commonwealth Games says Victoria made it harder than it had to
Industry figures say the Andrews government’s “regional or bust” model was uniquely expensive and vulnerable to blowouts. It relied on creating brand new infrastructure — in some cases, to be later torn down again.
And it didn’t have to.
Furious Commonwealth Games authorities say the Andrews government ignored concerns raised and advice offered when cost blowouts became evident.
Commonwealth Games hosts technically only need to include athletics and swimming. (AAP: Dave Hunt)
They point out the only mandated sports are athletics and swimming. Apart from that, under reforms in 2021, hosts can cap numbers, cull sports, and do basically whatever they need to make sure the event is viable.
It’s something the Olympics officially recognised back in 2018 with its “New Norm” reforms, introducing more flexibility for host countries to use existing infrastructure.
As Victoria’s Harry Houdini act enters the annals of sporting history, “existing infrastructure” will surely become the new sexy at bidding processes across the globe.
Olympics get lucrative broadcast deals in advance
The Olympics’ governing body knows their media revenues several years before any Games. The 2026 Commonwealth Games didn’t even have a deal just three years out.
Hans Westerbeek, professor of international sports business at Victoria University, says that can be “make or break”.
“The host of Olympic Games know how much money they will receive from the IOC, in terms of a support fund for the local organisation,” he says.
“Whereas the Commonwealth Games still are in the process of finalising their media contract in uncertain and insecure revenue streams that can make or break the finalisation of their budget.”
And how much will broadcasters pay for it anyway?
Tim Harcourt from the University of Technology Sydney says the Commonwealth Games can’t compete with the commercial deals the Olympics attracts, through markets like North America and Asia.
“You don’t get those great broadcast rights,” he says.
And broadcasters in most Commonwealth countries won’t pay top dollar either, according to Tracey Dickson, associate professor of event and tourism management at the University of Canberra.
“Somewhere like Canada, where … some sports are not really big on their agenda, and you don’t get lots of interest from broadcasters,” she says.
“And if you don’t have the market for broadcast, then you’re not going to get other sponsorships that come in behind that.”
So, it all goes back to what you can sell…
Which Games is more sellable?
Mr Westerbeek says the Commonwealth Games are hampered by seeming “a bit old and stale and outdated”, relying on a historic connection to the United Kingdom.
“[The] connotations with the old British Empire still resonate strongly,” he said.
Some view the Commonwealth Games as outdated and based on a tenuous connection to the British empire. (AP: Toby Melville)
But Mr Westerbeek points out another problem with the Commonwealth Games product: the best in the world are often not there.
“How can you sell an event that basically can only be pitched as elite-level sport, but then not have elite-level nations from around the world participate?” he asks.
“It’s a hard sell — three medal-winning nations, and then a few others with a few, and 50 nations who basically participate just to make up the numbers.”
And Tuesday’s decision from Victoria now makes that product look riskier.
Mr Westerbeek says the “short-termism” of the Commonwealth Games means there’s a scramble to find a host and commercial partners who may not want to invest in something that seems risky — particularly off the back of Victoria’s decision yesterday.
The Olympics isn’t immune
Ms Dickson points out that the “social licence” – the backing they get from the community – for both events is limited for the Olympics as well.
“You will have seen recently conversations around redevelopment of the Gabba [in Brisbane for 2032] and whether or not that should be pulled down and rebuilt or whether it should be a brightened up [to] minimise the capital expenditure on these events,” she says.
The Queensland and federal governments are spending $7 billion to overhaul Brisbane’s sports venues, including rebuilding the Gabba. (ABC News: Christopher Gillette)
“Vancouver had a huge issue around social licence, because they too, were hit with the global financial crisis, just as it was coming into the Games.
“They too had large amounts of money being spent on infrastructure, and everybody’s saying, the economy is falling apart … ‘what are you doing for the people in the street, the homeless?'”
The federal government is also more likely to buy into the Olympics.
Both events are good for deal making
In a previous life, Professor Harcourt worked for Austrade, which set up Business Club Australia to use the 2000 Sydney Olympics to create longer-term business opportunities.
He says the Commonwealth Games are just as useful on this front.
“When we had Melbourne in 2006, we did almost as many deals as we did in Sydney. So, the trade exposure’s pretty good, because most of our trading partners are still in the Commonwealth.”
So what’s the verdict?
Ms Dickson has studied mega sporting events across the globe and says despite the talk from wannabe host cities, they typically don’t spend enough time and energy on “legacy” – the social usefulness of what events leave in their wake.
“There’s lots of rhetoric, lots of talk beforehand about legacy,” Ms Dickson says.
“The question is: how much of the focus is on what happens after the event finishes?”