Plumb: Commonwealth Games in identity crisis

SIMON PLUMB
Last updated 05:00 20/07/2014
Mo Farah
Getty Images
MINOR CONCERN: For athletes like Great Britain's Mo Farah, the Commonwealth Games are no longer the pinnacle event.

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OPINION: What to do with the Commonwealth Games?

A once revered event faces crisis - both financial and of identity.

No-one wants to host it with metropolitan cities in fear of half-billion dollar losses, the commercial sector is reluctant to back it because there's no global audience and even the athletes and administrators admit that for many of the 18 sports, it's just simply no longer a pinnacle event.

For starters, most track and field athletes worldwide geared their 2014 seasons around March's world indoor championships, Kiwi swimmers will race by far better opposition at the Pan-Pacific championships in August, the triathletes regularly face better fields throughout the year at World Cup and world series events and both the Black Sticks hockey teams have already had world cups this year.

While the plates of the sporting landscape have shifted massively, coming together to make more events truly global, the Commonwealth Games have stood still - and in some sense, actually regressed.

The last Commonwealth Games was a shambles. Just some of the problems in Delhi included fears of dengue fever, vandalism of a Games village where preparations were also severely delayed, poor ticket sales, half of the 20,000 volunteers walking out - and all before far more serious social and economic issues such as major expenditure and financial losses in a country where basic human rights, such as health and education, suffer greatly.

For a number of reasons, Glasgow will deliver a much better Games this time around, thanks in part to leveraging heavily off the successful local organising committee of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

However, that does nothing to even start addressing the elephant in the room - the long term future of the event. The Commonwealth Games can no longer assume safety in the shadow of its Olympic big brother.

Beyond Gold Coast 2018 there is no host confirmed. More importantly, there is not an appetite for potential hosts to even bid.

Part of the problem is the Commonwealth Games has tried to ride the coat-tails of the Olympic Games in an attempt to convince people it is still relevant.

Interestingly, the New Zealand team to Glasgow this year is far bigger than the London Olympics two years ago, 238 athletes compared to 184, according the New Zealand Olympic Committee website last week. So what kind of costs are involved in that? And who picks up the tab?

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Last week, New Zealand's own Martin Snedden, the local boss of the 2011 Rugby World Cup hosting, says persisting with modelling the event as a mini Olympics will only "guarantee the death of the event in due course".

Clearly, both a commercial and philosophical overhaul are urgently needed.

So what of New Zealand? What's this country's role and responsibilities in all this? Do we even care?

Only six countries have attended every Commonwealth Games - Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales. New Zealand is also only one of five nations to host the event more than once.

Clearly, New Zealand is a senior stakeholder in this and since it hasn't hosted the Commonwealth Games since Auckland 1990, it has to be said that if hosting was based on rotation, New Zealand's number is well and truly up.

Auckland had considered a bid for the 2018 Games but pulled out after John Key's Government estimated it would lose somewhere in the region of $583m. No thanks!

But, would we be interested in a new, slimmed-down version? A less expensive model? Would it be good for Kiwi sport? And if so, what ideas should the NZOC, and the Government, be coming up with to stop the Commonwealth Games from slipping into the ether?

- Sunday News

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