‘Gen Z events may be future of Commonwealth Games’
On a flight home from a business meeting in Guernsey, I sat across the aisle from members of the island’s Commonwealth Games team. I think I spotted sprinter Abi Galpin in her Guernsey Athletics sweatshirt, while an older member of the entourage – team manager? coach? – had his nose firmly in the World Championships preview edition of Athletics Weekly.
My hard heart skipped a beat. Yes, the big nations will dominate the medal tables, but Birmingham 2022, which starts today, is as much about a spotlight for the Commonwealth’s smaller territories and the world’s secondary and tertiary sports. But for how long?
Angela Stuart, secretary general of the Guernsey Commonwealth Games Association, tells me it has 28 athletes who will have the “extremely high honour” of competing for their island across seven sports.
Some have medal hopes. One, Alastair Chalmers, is just back from Oregon22 having reached the semis for Great Britain in the 400m hurdles. Guernsey last won a medal, in any sport, in 1994. I’m rooting for them to break that run over the next 11 days.
Commonwealth Games open tonight
The opening ceremony for Birmingham 2022 is this evening. These Games have flown under the radar. Last weekend there were far more newspaper column inches for the 10th anniversary of the London 2012 Olympics than there were previewing the coming action around the West Midlands and in the Lee Valley Velo Park.
More than 100,000 tickets are still for sale. There was even an advertisement for them during a break in the first of the new series of First Dates (I know, guilty pleasure) on Channel 4 last Thursday. It was the first one I’d seen. Rather late for a final push.
A senior leader in one of the Games’ marquee sports told me they think the days of the Commonwealths are numbered, and that Victoria 2026 might be their final edition.
I don’t disagree with their concerns – the declining importance of the Commonwealth itself as a geopolitical confection, the crowded sporting calendar and the high cost of hosting the Games – but I’m not so pessimistic.
The new chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Katie Sadleir, has been refreshingly open in her first year in office about the need for the event to modernise. Only athletics and swimming are now considered sacrosanct as part of the Games schedule. New hosting models are under consideration.
Helpfully, Birmingham has failed to deliver its planned athlete village so will inadvertently demonstrate that an expensive central accommodation hub is unnecessary. And, intriguingly, esports have been invited to create their own showcase competition next weekend.
A British fan in Oregon for the World Athletics Championships gently chided me for writing in my last column that the stadium was full for evening sessions. By his estimation it was only at 70 per cent capacity for the US team’s clean sweep in the men’s 100m final. If he’s right, I blame cunning TV execs for my mistake, their camera angles carefully mapped to mask empty seats.
There will be a similar broadcast challenge for many sports in Birmingham, possibly even for athletics in the revamped and temporarily enlarged Alexander Stadium. At least the sport is ring-fenced. International federations for other sports that are clinging onto Commonwealth Games slots should quake if their venues are sparsely attended.
A process is currently running for sports to request a place at Victoria 2026 next time round. The deadline for submissions is 19 August. Expect a lot of interest from those eager to raise their profiles and be part of Sadleir’s revitalisation.
The likes of lawn bowls, squash, judo and wrestling (the last two have failed to make the initial list of sports) will be acutely aware that they are under pressure from activities with far greater appeal to Gen Z. And rightly so. While there is an element of social enterprise about the Games, ultimately consumer dollars must have the final say.
And as for Guernsey and the other small teams? The Games are right now. Their future shape can wait for tomorrow. Bring ‘em on!
Birmingham 2022 is up against both the climax of football’s Women’s Euro 2022 and the start of the Premier League. Even the EFL kicking off tomorrow with Huddersfield against Burnley. Its three leagues are in a financial mess, emphasised by Derby County’s points deduction and relegation to League One last season.
It remains to be seen just what Derby’s wage bill might be in the club’s new tier of competition, but the spread of team budgets across League One is startling, from around £2m for the season to about £10m. The best paid players in the division earn over £1m a year, so half the total playing budget of the most financially constrained clubs. Salary caps anyone?
What is it with mascots that make even the most senior people in global sport lose all their dignity? At the recent World Championships, Legend the Bigfoot was pictured scooping up a heavyweight athletics leader.
At least Oregon22’s Legend didn’t drop Jake Wightman when he gave him a celebratory piggyback. The Brit athlete’s bid for treble gold this summer could have ended there and then. Remember Berlino the Bear and Jamaican hurdler Melaine Walker back in 2009?
Only one solitary medal for France at Oregon22, a mere two years out from the Paris Olympics More on this next week. GB’s seven-medal haul equalled France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined.
Ed Warner is chair of GB Wheelchair Rugby and writes at sportinc.substack.com