Australia’s decision to pull out of the 2026 Commonwealth Games because of projected costs has some questioning Alberta’s potential bid to host in 2030.
Premier of Australia’s Victoria state Daniel Andrews said Tuesday that his government agreed to host the multi-sports event, “but not at any cost.”
He said his government initially budgeted $2.6 billion AUS to stage the Games in five regional cities, but recent estimates put the potential cost as high as $7 billion.
The Commonwealth Games Federation said the estimated cost escalation was mainly due to the regional, multi-city host model and the Victoria government’s decision to change plans for venues and include more sports.
The 2026 Games had been scheduled for March 17-29 in the regional centers of Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat, Gippsland and Shepparton.
The state government had promoted the multi-city model as a game changer, with the five regional centers hosting 20 sports and nine fully-integrated Para sports.
Alberta is also considering a joint bid for the 2030 Games, in partnership with the cities of Edmonton and Calgary, the province of Alberta, the Tsuut’ina Nation, Enoch Cree Nation and Government of Canada.
The event would be held over 11 days in August 2030, with competitions and cultural events shared between Calgary, Edmonton, Tsuut’ina Nation, the Bow Valley and other Alberta communities.
“Alberta has a successful history of hosting major, international multi-sport games in our province,” a statement from the province read Tuesday.
“We are just beginning to explore the development of a major events bidding policy. We remain committed to providing transparency to taxpayers about the costs of hosting international sporting events and clearly demonstrating a return on our investment for the people and communities here in Alberta.
“We must ensure that the benefits outweigh costs and potential risks that come with hosting these types of events.”
In her July 14 mandate letter to the minister of Tourism and Sport, the premier tasked Minister Schow with:
“Developing an international games bidding policy and legislation (if necessary) to ensure future international gaming bids using substantial provincial taxpayer dollars are subject to transparent public disclosure requirements and cost/benefit analysis and include mandatory referenda for affected communities when appropriate.”
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Amanda Espinoza with Alberta Commonwealth 2030, said many discussions are taking place, due diligence done and public feedback sought. Albertans can weigh in online and more opportunities for engagement will happen over the summer before a final decision on Alberta’s joint bid is made in the fall, Espinoza said.
“Bringing the Commonwealth Games back to Canada, where they first started, is a really great opportunity for us to see and show the world where we’ve come in all this time, where Alberta is now,” she said.
“This phase is really about understanding what those impacts and benefits would be and making sure we’re doing so in a strategic way. We’re reducing risk by spreading across Calgary, Edmonton, Tsuut’ina, Enoch, Banff and Canmore area.
“We’re looking at this as a cost-effective Games, one that delivers the legacies in a sustainable manner,” Espinoza said.
Hosting an event like this, she says, is a community-building endeavor that will also help with youth sport development, coaching development, talent attraction and retention, and renewing the strong volunteer base.
“With any Games of this magnitude, it’s important to have public discussions,” Espinoza said. “Extensive dialogue will be critical.
“We really do think that right now is that time to listen, to learn, to educate, to understand what the concerns and priorities are.”
The decision on the host region is expected in November.
This is the second time in as many iterations there’s been issues with hosting the Commonwealth Games.
Birmingham stepped in late to host the 2022 Games in England to replace Durban, South Africa.
Victoria state hosted the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. The most recent edition held in Australia was on the Gold Coast, Queensland state, in 2018. The Gold Coast was part of the southeast Queensland bid that in 2021 was awarded rights to the 2032 Olympics.
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Dan Mason, a professor of sport management at the University of Alberta, said Victoria’s decision to withdraw is not overly surprising.
“The landscape is changing for bidding and hosting events. I think fewer cities are willing to take the financial risk of hosting and they’re a lot more aware of the downsides of hosting – like being stuck with white elephant facilities.”
However, Mason said cost concerns from host cities usually come from cost overruns in new facility construction. Victoria already has a lot of facilities, he said.
Edmonton already has a lot of that necessary infrastructure in place, too.
“This time, it’s been a little bit of a smarter bid in the sense that they’re recognizing they have existing infrastructure that can use to accommodate the events,” Mason said.
“On Edmonton’s side of things, there’s not that same kind of infrastructure cost expectation that’ll be associated with hosting the Games in 2030.”
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In 1974, ahead of Edmonton’s hosting of the 1978 Games, the city saw cost estimates rise from $9 million to $44 million for event facilities. Then, Edmonton expanded Commonwealth Stadium for two previous sporting events, including the World Track and Field Championships.
“Hosting another event may allow them the opportunity to refurbish and improve the stadium but they’ve already got that infrastructure in place. To build that stadium today would be cost prohibitive,” Mason said.
The joint bid also means there are more already-built facilities across Alberta that can be used for events, he added.
“It could be something that could be done relatively inexpensively from an infrastructure perspective. That would make it a lot more exciting from an economic impact perspective because then you’re not seeing that money going out to pay for that infrastructure. That money could be used for other things and you still have those tourism dollars coming in.”
He thinks an international event like the Commonwealth Games would bring people from across the province to the cities hosting events and it would attract visitors from outside the province.
“I imagine there’d be quite a few people that would come to Edmonton to watch the Commonwealth Games, and that’s not even including the participants who’d be staying at hotels and eating,” Mason said.
He explained Edmonton has been smart in its hosting decisions previously.
“This is a measured decision to host this event and if they don’t need to build a major stadium or major facilities to host the events that they’re going to be awarded — if they’re awarded events over the province — I think that’s something the city should be excited about.”
The Commonwealth Games started out as the British Empire Games in 1930 at Hamilton, Canada, and since 1978 has operated under its current branding. England, Australia, New Zealand, Wales, Jamaica, Scotland, Malaysia and India have hosted the Games, which are staged every four years and involve teams from 54 members of the Commonwealth network and 17 overseas territories and island states.
With files from the Associated Press