Hope yet for future of battered and bruised Commonwealth Games

Hope yet for future of battered and bruised Commonwealth Games


Katie Sadleir, the CEO of the CGF, accepts time is pressing but says intensive efforts are under way

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Paris (AFP) – The future of the Commonwealth Games has once again been plunged into doubt since Malaysia declined to host the 2026 edition last week, but according to former Olympic marketing guru Michael Payne "it would be wrong to write the event off just yet."

Malaysia's decision came despite the offer of a £100 million ($126 million) sweetener from the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) towards the costs of hosting the event.

Organisers are trying to fill the vacuum left by the withdrawal last year of the Australian state of Victoria, who were announced as hosts in 2022. The financial support is available to any prospective host.

The CGF hopes that the Games' perceived strengths of inclusivity and integration, with para sports mixed in seamlessly with able-bodied events, will secure a host just two years out from the multi-sport event.

Katie Sadleir, the CEO of the CGF, accepts time is pressing but says intensive efforts are under way.

"The process to determine a host for the 2026 Games is continuing at pace with interested Commonwealth Games Associations (CGAs)," she told AFP.

"While acutely aware of the incredibly tight timeframe, we have encouraged proposals that will reset the Games. "Alongside this process, we have accelerated work to refresh and reframe the Games.

"This has included exploring innovative new concepts and event opportunities."

Payne, who in nearly two decades at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was widely credited with overhauling the organisation's brand and finances through sponsorship, told AFP that in an increasingly competitive world, the Commonwealth Games had one searing question to answer.

"The challenge is relevance –- balancing history with evolution and maintaining some form of relevance," said the 66-year-old Irishman. "With the passing of Queen Elizabeth II everything just got a lot harder."

'Good, bad and the ugly'

Terrence Burns, who since leaving his role as an IOC marketing executive has played a key part in five successful Olympic bid city campaigns, told AFP his "first thought is they (CGF) have a brand problem."

"This means two things in my world: one, a lack of differentiation of competitive products, and two, a lack of or declining relevancy for its core target audience.

"Without either of those core brand principles, no product or service has much hope of success or longevity." Burns said the Commonwealth Games faced a huge challenge to keep its core audience and attract a new one.

"The event, sport, and entertainment space is multi-fold more competitive for consumers' attentions than even 10 years ago," he said.

"The novelty of seeing all these nations come together in one place at one time has been muted by the internet and technology's ability for one to literally carry the world -– and all human history in the world -– in one's pocket.

"We tend to yawn at wonder now, which is a crying shame to me."

Burns believes the Games "in their current format and form will continue to wither" but underlines that the IOC made significant reforms as a result of an intensive consultation process following the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Payne says the main takeaways from that were "the need to start managing the brand, and after the problems in Atlanta -- greater control over the Organising Committee."

For Burns, progress can only be made if the powers that be at the CGF take on board the responses from their ongoing consultation, regardless of how uncomfortable the answers might be.

"They need to understand the good, bad, and the ugly to have a place from which they can start," he said.

"So, does it have a future? Let's start with the fact it does have a vibrant and glorious past -– but that past only exists within a market segment that is forever limited by its very name -– the Commonwealth Games. "By definition, it is not meant for anyone else."

For Payne, though, the Commonwealth Games are a bit like a boxer who no matter the pounding he takes always defies expectations and comes back off the ropes.

"As long as I can recall, more than half a century, people have been asking whether the Commonwealth Games were finished," he said.

"Each time they have come back and staged successful editions, (like) 2022 Birmingham, and 2006 Melbourne."