Team England’s outgoing chief executive insists there is a future for the Commonwealth Games despite debate surrounding where a multi-sport tournament rooted in Britain’s former Empire sits in the 21st century.
Paul Blanchard is preparing to leave his position at the head of the team who hosted this year’s competition in Birmingham games after seven years in the role.
Yet beyond 2026, the next Commonwealth Games with a confirmed host in Victoria, Australia, its future is uncertain. On how many countries will host the Games in the future, Blanchard said he would have been downbeat 12 months ago but is less so now.
“The movement knows that it’s got to develop and it’s got to change because you cannot just bounce from the UK back to Australia,” he added. “That’s not sustainable.
“But the work they have done in the last 12 months under the guidance of the new [Commonwealth Games] chief executive Katie Sadleir is very impressive. “It’s about making it much more accessible for nations and regions to bid and making it much more flexible in terms of sports programmes.”
Good work will continue
Blanchard believes that a streamlined programme, whereby only athletics and aquatics are guaranteed to take place at every Games, could lead to the likes of the Caribbean and the South Sea Islands hosting a future edition. He is also certain that the Commonwealth can use its platform to push for change away from sport.
“I think the good work will continue. But I think the high profile athlete advocacy, which was very much showcased in Birmingham, is starting to pay off,” Blanchard added.
“[It’s about] relatively small but important developments. And interestingly this week Singapore has repealed some of their LGBT laws, which I am not stating the [Commonwealth] movement is responsible for but it couldn’t have done any harm. “The movement is genuinely progressive and has the influence to develop that positively.”
Blanchard took over Team England – after a career in sport which has included positions in county cricket, Premier League football and the NFL – in 2015 following England’s successful Games in Glasgow, where the team topped the table.
Since then, England have gone from planning a travelling party to Durban to hosting the Commonwealth Games this year after the South African city fell into financial difficulties.
Blanchard’s England secured a record medal tally this summer in front of capacity crowd after capacity crowd – which included para-events in higher numbers than seen before.
But he considers his legacy to be strides made in enhancing Team England’s standing in the wider UK sports scene.
“We have very much established ourselves as a genuinely important part of the high performance system,” Blanchard said. “We have worked very closely with the BOA and BPA [British Olympic Association and British Paralympic Association], EIS [English Institute of Sport] and with UK Sport more than we’ve ever done by a long way.
“There was genuine interest, genuine support and a genuine understanding of the value of the organisation so I think we have come a long way in performance, but more importantly in reputation and position.”
Blanchard informed his employers of his departure months ago but has said he will remain in post until the next chief executive is found and insists the move was an amicable one.
As for the future and where Blanchard sees himself?
Well, he’s not too sure.
“I’m not getting off the bus too early,” he said about remaining in post for now. “I’ve had a couple of calls, so I’m just going to take my time and see what might come up.
“It could be another full time role or it could be a bit of a portfolio option with perhaps a non-executive in there. It’s a nice position to be in for me, to be able to take time and have a think about what comes next