Australia’s state of Victoria has withdrawn as host of the 2026 Commonwealth Games due to projected cost overruns, placing the future of the quadrennial multi-sport event in doubt.
Victoria Premier Dan Andrews said the cost of the Games, which were to have been held in four regional hubs, could blow out to more than AUD$7 billion (US$4.8 billion) from a budgeted AUD$2.6 billion(US$1.7 million) if they went ahead.
“Frankly AUD$6-AUD$7 billion (US$4. US$4,8 billion) for a 12-day sporting event, we’re not doing that,” Andrews said at a media conference on Tuesday.
“I will not take money out of hospitals and schools to fund an event that is three times the cost as estimated and budgeted for last year.”
Andrews said Victoria had yet to work out the cost of breaking its contract with the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), the global governing body.
The CGF said they had eight hours’ notice of the decision and were offered no consideration to work on solutions with Victoria.
“This is hugely disappointing for the Commonwealth Sport Movement, for athletes … and the Organising Committee who are well advanced in their planning and preparation,” the CGF said in a statement.
“We are taking advice on the options available to us.”
The federation said Victoria’s projected cost blow-out was 50 percent higher than estimates given to the CGF’s organising committee board last month.
It also blamed the state government for jacking up the Games bill by including more sports and changing venue plans, “often against the advice” of the CGF and the local body, Commonwealth Games Australia (CGA).
“The stated costs overrun, in our opinion, are a gross exaggeration,” CGA Chief Executive Craig Phillips said in a separate statement.
The sporting event for mostly former British colonies has struggled to remain relevant, with five of the last six editions held in Australia or Britain.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said the recent pandemic had created economic and financial challenges that were exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“All international federations and sports event organisers have to look very carefully at which events to organise under which circumstances and whether an event is really necessary or whether it’s just nice to have,” Bach said.
“We are not living in a time where you can look so much at the nice-to-haves.”
English city Birmingham stepped in to host the 2022 Games after South Africa were stripped of them in 2017 over a lack of progress in preparations.
Victoria put its hand up for 2026 last year when no other countries showed interest.
Victoria officials had talked up legacy benefits from new infrastructure in regional areas and an economic boost of more than AUD$3 billion (US$2 billion).
Andrews said his government will instead spend more than AUD$2 billion (US$1.7 billion) on a “regional package” which would include building all permanent sporting facilities intended for the Games, along with AUD$1 billion (US$681 million) for social and affordable housing.
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC), which had spoken of 2026 as a “runway” for hosting the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, said it was “an enormous disappointment” for the athletes.
New Zealand said it was “unsettling” for its own athletes who had banked on a Games close to home while Team England said they were “surprised and disappointed” at the decision.
Australia, by far the Games’ most successful competing nation, has hosted five of the previous 22 editions.
A cooling of enthusiasm from one of the Games’ staunchest supporters bodes poorly for their future.
John Coates, an International Olympic Committee Vice-President and former AOC boss, said Sydney, which hosted the 2000 Olympics, should take on the 2026 Games.
However, the government of New South Wales state, of which Sydney is the capital, said it would decline any approach due to budgetary pressures. South Australia and Western Australia states also ruled them out.
The cost of the Games and their nebulous legacy benefits have long drawn scepticism, and even the CGF has conceded they must downsize to survive.
A bid for Canadian city Hamilton to host the 2030 Games collapsed in February after failure to secure government support.