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Games a vital rung on world sport ladder

by Mike Collins, Bond University’s Director of Sport

When Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate announced last week that his "audacious" bid for the city to host the 2026 Commonwealth Games was over, it probably didn't come to many of us as a great surprise.

Despite some in-principal backing from heavy-hitting business and sport luminaries Gina Rinehart, Gerry Harvey and Katie Page, he conceded there was no distracting the state or federal governments from their laser focus on preparations for the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

"We did our best and that's all people can expect," Mayor Tate said of trying to breathe a little more air into the lungs of the world’s only global sporting contest that has able bodied and parasport contested on the same program.

He said he believed a nation-straddling 2026 Gold Coast-Perth games would have generated much-needed employment for both regions and provided a buffer of sorts to any downturn in the economy brought about by cost-of-living pressures.

Yes, it’s easy to point at the national reputational damage of Victoria dropping the proverbial baton and to feel for our athletes who miss another chance to strut their stuff on home turf, including our lawn bowlers who curiously take on a cult status once every four years.

But with the apparent threat to the very existence of the Games, think for a moment about who the real losers will be if they are no more.

Spoiler alert, it’s not really Australia.

I have to disclose a vested interest in this discussion as my grandfather Joe Collins represented New Zealand in the lightweight division of the boxing at the 1938 British Empire Games in Sydney.

However, the recent arrival of World Aquatics athletes to Bond University has also given me cause to think about what the games mean to smaller nations in the Commonwealth.  

The Games draw wide participation from countries in the early stages of being a developing nation to whom the Commonwealth Games are their Olympics.

Count among them our Oceania neighbours the like of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji and others.

The World Aquatics Oceania Training centre is based on the Gold Coast at Bond University, and we are currently hosting swimmers from all over the world, including potential Commonwealth Games participants Lanihei Connolly from the Cook Islands and Tongan Finau Lino Ohuafiw.

These two determined athletes come from nations where there is no access to world class coaches or Olympic swimming pools.  

The only way that will change is if the athlete’s nations can force Government investment in sports by competing at the highest level possible.    

It is the same situation for our African friends in Swaziland, Botswana, The Gambia, Eswatini, Malawi, Tuvalu, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania and plenty more.

In fact, 18 African countries sent athletes to Birmingham in 2022 where they acquitted themselves admirably, but most of these athletes are a long way from hearing their national anthem played as they stand on the top step of an Olympic dais.

However, times are changing, developing nations are doing just that, and if the disappearance of the Commonwealth Games were to happen, it couldn’t come at a worse time for many of the smaller members of the international sporting fraternity.

Through fiscal discipline and sound management, several African and island nations are in the throes of transforming themselves from some of the poorest countries in the world to middle-income.  

Take Botswana for example, boosted by diamond exports and relative political stability, the performance of its economy has enabled the government to increase resources for education, health, food, housing, and social welfare programs including sport.

Things seem to be going in the right direction, but national sport development funding can only expect to be proportionate to promised outcomes, which for most African nations for the past 93 years have been the Commonwealth Games.

That is the dilemma.  

If the Commonwealth Games cease to exist, and that sport critical development pathway is gone, what chance will these nations and athletes have for any decent sport funding?  

It’s a vital rung on the world sporting ladder gone, a rug pulled from beneath and a tragedy that Commonwealth Games detractors over the years have likely barely considered.

The Commonwealth Games are a far cry from a four-year sugar high of swimming, high jumps, jack highs, penalty shootouts and Advance Australia Fair played on loop.

And as commendable it was for the Gold Coast to ride in and try to rescue the 2026 edition, let’s hope another city here or away can step up and give the Games maybe one last shot, if only for the minnows of world sport.

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