In world sport, the Commonwealth games are a bit of a sideshow. In swimming and athletics, at least, they are seen as something of a mid-cycle training event for the Olympics. Australians, however, love the Commonwealth games. Not just because they are about friendly sporting rivalries and promote goodwill between the nearly 60 nations of the Commonwealth and Britain’s remaining dependencies. Nor because they are one of the few remaining institutions that justify the Commonwealth’s active existence.
But because Australia wins big, every time. With only England as a serious rival for intra-Commonwealth supremacy, Australian teams and athletes are guaranteed a shower of gold medals, in a way the Olympics nor any other major sporting event can rival. Australians punters love winners and, more importantly, so do cashed-up Australian broadcasters and Australian politicians.
Yet on Tuesday, the state government of Victoria unilaterally reneged on its commitment to stage the Commonwealth games in 2026 – throwing the event into chaos. Victoria’s Labor premier, Daniel Andrews, announced that his state would no longer host the games to an astonished media, and gobsmacked the regional host towns in his state and the Australian sporting community, including the London-based Commonwealth Games Federation, who were only given eight hour’s notice in the dead of the British night.
Last year, the state government bid for the games at an estimated cost of A$2 billion. Instead of holding events in the state’s biggest city, Melbourne, with its extensive established facilities, the bid proposed building new sporting and housing infrastructure in regional Victoria.
There was an ulterior, political, motive to the hosting commitment. Facing a state election last November, the bid allowed Andrews to go on a spending spree. The games justified his renewal plan, which in turn helped his government hold onto a clutch of marginal seats against the conservatives.