Victoria’s cancellation of the 2026 Commonwealth Games has put at risk Australia’s reputation as a welcoming and reliable organiser of major events. Convincing international bodies to host events in Australia is always challenging, and Victoria’s cancellation only makes it harder.
From a negotiating perspective, the Premiers of New South Wales and Western Australia may have been right to immediately decline the offer to simply step in for Victoria. But as the dust settles, the NSW, Western Australian and Federal Governments should now review the true costs and the unique opportunity which has become available.
One possible model is for Sydney and Perth to host the Games together. This could be done at minimal cost, using existing infrastructure. There would also be many other benefits of spreading the Games across the country.
Basing the Games in Sydney and Perth would split the costs, share the accommodation load, broaden the audience and increase the timezones. An innovative Games uniquely hosted by two major cities would also increase national and international interest.
Sydney could host the Opening Ceremony, Swimming, Cycling, Rugby 7s, Netball, Lawn Bowls, Squash and 3×3 Basketball as well as iconic outdoor events like the Triathlon, Beach Volleyball and Cycling Road Race.
Perth could host the Closing Ceremony and the Athletics, Cricket, Hockey, Gymnastics, Para Powerlifting, Boxing, Judo, Table Tennis, Weightlifting and Wrestling.
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Then to mark the middle of the Games (and the shift of focus from Sydney to Perth), the Marathons could be held at Uluru. This is not a new idea, the Australian Outback Marathon has been running since 2010 and for the past six years they’ve had over 500 competitors.
The TV ratings would be great and the tourism benefits and opportunity to celebrate our Indigenous communities would be even better. Spreading the Games across the nation with our most iconic locations as the backdrop would speak powerfully to the vast and diverse beauty of our continent.
There would also be no need to build a new athlete’s village if the accommodation was equally shared between Sydney and Perth. 4,500 athletes attended the Gold Coast 2018 Games so it’s likely Sydney and Perth would only need to accommodate 2,500-3,500 people each. This could be done in a handful of secure hotels.
Alternatively, at the 2022 Birmingham Games, 6,500 athletes and officials were housed in existing accommodation with the majority at the universities of Birmingham and Warwick. Hosting the Games in Australia during the university holidays in July or late November should be considered.
Hosting the Games across two timezones would mean the events in Perth (especially Athletics and Cricket) would be conveniently broadcast to the northern hemisphere, whilst events in Sydney including the Swimming and Rugby 7s would suit timezones in the Pacific and Asia.
Spreading the events across two cities and two time zones would also potentially reduce the length of the Games from 12 days to 9 or 10, providing extra time to highlight Australia’s local cultural and natural sites.
If the Games were held in November 2026, this would coincide with the opening of the new Western Sydney Airport whilst the flights to and from Perth would promote Qantas’ direct routes to Europe.
As a new development, the Athletics, Swimming and all the Para-athlete events could include special invitations to Top 10 athletes from across the world – not just the Commonwealth. Australia would win less medals, but the benefit would be a truly world class competition and increased TV ratings, including in non-Commonwealth countries.
(AAP Image/Michael Chambers)
Next year, the Paris Olympics will revolutionise the model for Opening Ceremonies with the opening to be held not in a stadium but down the River Seine. The athletes will be paraded on 160 boats with 600,000 people attending.
Sydney has the perfect opportunity to expand this concept further with a new Opening Ceremony on Sydney Harbour launching a truly unique Commonwealth Games across the nation.
The Commonwealth Games Baton Relay would also provide a unique opportunity to engage regional and remote communities. The Relay usually concludes at the Opening Ceremony, but here it could continue throughout the Games itself, prominently making its way from Sydney to Perth for the Closing Ceremony. The Baton carried across the Nullarbor would be an unforgettable moment.
These are just a small selection of potential opportunities but the key point is that the Federal and State Governments should review all available options.
The relative risks of Australia hosting the Games or abandoning them completely need to be properly considered.
Finally, it should be noted that various reports indicate the exit fee for the Gold Coast 2018 Games was in the range of $1 billion: effectively the cost of hosting the Games in an alternative city. So Victoria’s exit fee could end up constituting a significant portion of the budget for the new Games organisers.
Australia now has the chance to not only save the Commonwealth Games but reinvent them. Australia has built a can-do reputation for innovative global events and we shouldn’t shy away from this challenge or the opportunity. The alternative is to do nothing, which simply affirms the outcome announced by Premier Andrews.