The Roar
The Roar



RIP, Commonwealth Games: a relic of an Imperial past no longer relevant on the global sporting landscape

Nicola McDermott is Australia’s best hope in the high jump in Birmingham. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
18th July, 2023

The demise of the Commonwealth Games in Victoria is yet another sign that this relic of the past is no longer relevant.

And while the Olympics will always survive while there is human lifeform on this planet, they are heading the same way towards being on the periphery of world sport.

Ever tried to explain to people outside the Commonwealth nations who exactly competes in this anachronistic event?

Or do you even know or care yourself?

There was no blood on the streets in the wake of Victoria Premier Dan Andrews’ announcement on Tuesday that the government was pulling the pin on hosting the CommGames at various regional locations.

Kyle Chalmers of Team Australia celebrates after winning gold in the Men's 100m Freestyle Final on day four of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games at Sandwell Aquatics Centre on August 1, 2022 on the Smethwick, United Kingdom. (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

Kyle Chalmers celebrates after winning gold at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

The tepid response from many sports fans shows that the care factor is officially at defcon level meh.

When it comes to major sporting events that require new infrastructure to be built, costing millions upon billions of dollars, there has been a huge momentum shift.


People are no longer blindly celebrating a city winning hosting rights to a point where governments are now being held to account over the short-term cost and long-term pain that white elephant stadiums or athletes villages leave behind. 

Qatar churned through countless billions while employing dubious foreign worker “safety” standards to build eight stadiums for last year’s FIFA World Cup and those venues are being scaled back with some of the seating supposedly being sent to poorer nations to help with their facilities.

The Commonwealth Games in regional Victoria was a significantly smaller event but the Victorian government has made a decision which will become more commonplace worldwide – to opt against hosting feelgood sporting events to ensure funds are used in other areas.

Ones that will help get them re-elected, which is a politician’s raison d’etre, and also be more worthwhile in the long run for their constituents. 

The Commonwealth Games hit peak popularity in Australia on the back of Brisbane hosting in 1982 with its kitschy Matilda mascot and an avalanche of gold medals for Australian competitors.

Many swimmers and track and field athletes became household names over the next decade-plus even if they didn’t translate that dominance to the Olympics, which is one of the reasons why the Commonwealth Games has always appeared to be a pale imitation to less gullible sports fans. 


Yes, athletes from the richer Commonwealth nations could succeed in many sporting disciplines yet often then be relegated to also-ran status two years later when the entire world was on the starting blocks. 

And when Sydney won the hosting rights to the Olympics in 2000, the relative value of Commonwealth Games medals diminished even further. 

Melbourne hosting the CommGames in 2006 was probably the last time the event truly registered on the Australian sporting Richter scale. 

The Gold Coast version five years ago was newsworthy in South East Queensland but struggled to break through Australia’s infatuation with winter football codes for nationwide interest.

Australia will likely have a referendum on whether to become a republic in the near future if Anthony Albanese is re-elected as Prime Minister and only the staunchest monarchists will point to the Commonwealth Games as a reason to stick with King Charles and co.

The sporting psyche continually evolves in Australia – rowing and boxing used to garner huge interest many decades ago, surf lifesaving peaked in the 1980s and motor sport was once omnipresent but the Supercars circuit is now seen as a niche pursuit when compared to the halcyon days of Peter Brock, Dick Johnson and Glenn Seton.

Tamika Saxby of Australia

Australian squash player Tamika Saxby competes against India’s Joshna Chinappa at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)


Squash courts used to be everywhere but are now harder to find than a bright orange bottle of Lucozade.

Olympic sports also appear to be in decline in Australia with the Games themselves also on the wane worldwide.

It’s hard to use the Tokyo Games which were delayed until 2021 due to the Covid pandemic as an accurate gauge on the current popularity of the Olympic movement but Paris next year will be a crucial litmus test on interest levels.

The IOC is trying to modernise the Games by including surfing, climbing, skateboarding and breakdancing in its Parisian program. 

Whatever the question is, breakdancing ain’t the answer. 

Anything that needs music is a performance, not a sport.

Some fans might think it will give the Olympics a breath of fresh air but including this pseudo sport makes the Games seem more like a circus than a sporting event.


Unfortunately for Brisbane in 2032, it will be hard to get out of the large shadow which only gets bigger in hindsight when you look back to the Sydney Olympics at the turn of the century.

Men's marathon finish at the Olympics

(Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Where the 2026 CommGames will be held now that the Victorians have pulled the pin remains to be seen. 

If the Commonwealth Games Federation wants to expand its diminishing footprint, perhaps it could look outside the four locations that have been used for the lion’s share of host cities.

Since the first event in 1930 it has been held in Britain eight times, Australia and Canada five times apiece and New Zealand on three occasions – the only ventures outside those areas were Jamaica in 1966, Malaysia in 1998 and India 13 years ago. 

The 2030 event is due to be held in Hamilton to mark the centenary of the Canadian city hosting the first “Empire Games”.

Sounds like the perfect way to sign off once and for all with a neat 100 years of varying relevance in geographically disparate pockets of the globe. 


From this week’s darkest chapter in Commonwealth Games history, it is highly unlikely that we will see a situation where the Empire strikes back.