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'Incredibly embarrassing': Sports react as Vic government axes 2026 Comm Games hosting over $5 billion blowout

Gold medalists Emma McKeon, Mollie O'Callaghan, Kyle Chalmers and William Zu Yang of Team Australia celebrate during the medal ceremony for the Mixed 4x100 Freestyle. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
17th July, 2023
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Victoria will not proceed with its hosting of the 2026 Commonwealth Games due to funding issues, state premier Dan Andrews has confirmed.

The 2026 Games were due to be held in regional Victoria.

Andrews confirmed the games will not be hosted by Victoria due to financial issues.

“What’s become clear is that the cost of hosting these games in 2026 is not the $2.6 billion which was budgeted and allocated,” Andrews said.

He said the true cost was likely to be closer to $6 billion or $7 billion and added that the state could not afford it.

“Frankly, $6 billion to $7 billion for a 12 day sporting event, we are not doing that – that does not represent value for money, that is all costs and no benefit,” Andrews said.

“I will not take money out of hospitals and schools to host an even that is three times the cost estimated and budgeted for last year.”

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Andrews also took to Twitter to explain the decision.

The Herald Sun reported Commonwealth Games staff were on Tuesday morning called in for an urgent meeting.

A source close to the government said to the paper it would be “incredibly embarrassing” if the Games were cancelled completely and the preference from a PR perspective would be to relocate the event to the city.

The move would cause Australia significant embarrassment as it would be hard for the organisers to find an alternative venue.

Regional Victoria became the only bidder for the games after Durban in South Africa lost the 2022 event and the original 2026 host city Birmingham had to step in for last year’s competition.

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Meetings were held with Commonwealth Games leadership in London on Monday night Australian time and will continue through Tuesday.

The Premier has meanwhile announced a $2 billion spending package for regional Victoria to make up for the loss of the Games, which was to act as a boost for facilities in the host centres.

That money includes a $1 billion Regional Housing Fund to build 1,300 new homes across regional Victoria.

South Australia ruled out stepping up to the plate.

The Vic government’s decision received a mixed reaction.

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The Commonwealth Games Federation said the government did not discuss solutions with it before reaching the decision.

Commonwealth Games Australia chief executive Craig Phillips said the forecast cost overruns, in his view, were a “gross exaggeration” and the government didn’t seriously consider other options.

“The Victorian government ignored recommendations to move events to purpose-built stadiums in Melbourne and remained wedded to temporary expensive venues in regional Victoria,” he told reporters.

Mr Phillips said the decision will damage Melbourne’s global reputation as the sporting capital of Australia.

“I would be very careful if I was an international sporting body coming in and doing business in this state in the future,” he said.

The cost of breaking the Games contract is yet to be settled but Mr Andrews pledged it would be revealed at a later date.

He suggested contracts for major upgrades to sports venues and housing have not been signed, with minimal costs incurred to date.

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While Victoria will no longer host the Games, some infrastructure projects will still go ahead.

There will be $1b spent on more than 1300 new social and affordable housing homes across regional Victoria and $150 million on tourism and events

Planned upgrades to regional sporting facilities are also set to go ahead.

About 100 people based in Geelong were employed to co-ordinate the Games, with some expected to lose their jobs and others redistributed to other government roles.

Regional Victoria was the only bidder for the Games after South African city Durban lost the 2022 event and the original 2026 host Birmingham stepped in to fill the void.

Victoria’s opposition leader John Pesutto and Nationals leader Peter Walsh branded the scrapping a “massive humiliation” for the state.

“The cancellation of the Commonwealth Games is hugely damaging to Victoria’s reputation as a global events leader,” they said in a joint statement.

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How the sports reacted

The head coach of Australia’s most successful Commonwealth Games sport has led the chorus of criticism after Victoria’s decision to pull out of hosting the 2026 Games.

And while other states have declined to come to the rescue, Swimming Australia’s head coach Rohan Taylor hopes the 2026 edition will be relocated, describing the Games as crucial in the build-up to Brisbane’s 2032 Olympics.

“It’s disappointing for the Australian public to miss out on having that event, which we know is a great opportunity for our athletes to represent their country … in front of home crowds,” Taylor told AAP.

“Hopefully we will see what option the Commonwealth Games Federation come up with, where it could be hosted.

“That’s a really important competition for not only swimming but our nation.

“Particularly with the build-up to Brisbane (Olympics), it’s always good to have international competition.”

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Swimmers have dominated Australia’s medal hauls at Commonwealth Games, claiming 734 of the nation’s 2596 medals overall.

A total of 307 of Australia’s 1001 gold medals – the most of any country at the Commonwealth Games – have been won in the pool.

Paralympic swimming champion Rowan Crothers said scrapping the world’s biggest event that features athletes with a disability alongside able-bodied athlete would “suck”.

“For some athletes, a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games means more than a gold medal at the Paralympics (because) it’s not just a similar level, it’s the exact same thing the able-bods get,” he tweeted.

Hockey is another sure source of Commonwealth Games silverware for Australia, the Kookaburras winning a seventh-straight gold in Birmingham last year while the Hockeyroos have topped the podium on four occasions.

Hockey Australia chief executive David Pryles said the decision would impact the sport at all levels.

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“The Commonwealth Games is one of the major tournaments … was going to give these athletes a time in the spotlight, an opportunity to represent their country at home in a competition that all of Australia gets behind,” he said.

“It is a missed opportunity … to build their profile and grow their popularity.

“You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Shooting wasn’t part of Birmingham’s Games but was set to return in Victoria.

“An enormous contribution of time and effort went into shooting’s bid to have our sport reinstated,” Shooting Australia chief executive Adam Sachs said.

“It is extremely unfortunate that this opportunity will now no longer be available to our athletes and our sport.”

BMX was set to make its Commonwealth debut, while the stage is also mighty for para-cycling disciplines such as tandem cycling.

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“Today’s decision puts in doubt crucial pathway opportunities for young and developing athletes,” AusCycling chief Marne Fechner said.

“It also means the loss of significant opportunities for developing Australian coaches, officials, volunteers and staff. 

“Particularly, our thoughts are with the staff of the organising committee and everyone involved in the planning of the Games, for whom today’s news will be especially difficult.”

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