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The Commonwealth Games are at a huge crossroads – Susan Egelstaff

FOR as long as I can remember, the Commonwealth Games have been a major focal point for so many sports in Scotland.

For countless athletes, outwith the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games is the highlight.

The facts it is a multisport event, it is only every four years and that you feel like you are winning medals for not just yourself but for Scotland, always makes it special.

Last week, however, the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) made an announcement that could have wide-reaching and potentially momentous implications both for sport in Scotland, and for the Games themselves.

For decades, there has been a list of “core sports”, which the hosts of each Commonwealth Games must include in the programme.

There have been slight fluctuations on said list, but typically there has been more than a dozen sports whose place on the programme was secure, whoever the host have been.

However, under a radical new “strategic roadmap”, which is designed to preserve the event’s future, this list of core sports has been cut to two, with only athletics and swimming enjoying protected status.

It is quite a move by the CGF, and is an attempt to persuade more cities that becoming hosts would be worthwhile.

Certainly, the Commonwealth Games is at a crossroads.

Hosting the event has become an expensive luxury, with fewer and fewer cities seeing it as an attractive proposition.

A pattern is emerging which sees few countries other than the UK or Australia showing any interest in staging the Games; this century, including next summer’s event in Birmingham, of the six editions, only once has it been held outwith the UK or Australia (in Delhi, in 2010). 

Just over four years out, a host has still not been found for the 2026 edition, which is perhaps unsurprising when the finances are examined.

The 2014 Games in Glasgow cost more than £500 million, the 2018 Games in Australia’s Gold Coast cost more than £900m, while next summer’s Games in Birmingham are expected to cost almost £800m.

These are eye-watering sums of money for an event that does not have the cachet of the Olympics, nor is there much significant evidence of a lasting legacy for the host country.

So the struggle to find host cities is understandable, which is what led to this shake-up by the CGF, with the requirement for an Athletes’ Village – another astronomical cost – also scrapped.

The theory behind these plans is sound, with a host nation reluctant to build, for example, a new velodrome if there is little interest within their country for track cycling.

The scaled-back core list also now gives more scope for introducing urban sports such as skateboarding, which was such a success at the recent Olympic Games.

However, despite the motives behind this move, it could backfire spectacularly.

Until this point, most sports consider Commonwealth Games participation, and Commonwealth Games medals, a significant part of their plan.

Particularly for the likes of netball, squash and lawn bowls, which do not enjoy a place on the Olympic programme, the Commonwealth Games is a highlight of their calendar.

In this country, and many others around the Commonwealth, significant sums of money are pumped into individual sports with the explicit goal of gaining Commonwealth Games success.

The security for sports of knowing that they have this event every four years encourages significant resources to be invested; without that target, there is every chance sports will turn their focus away from the Games.

Is there any incentive to invest tens of millions in a sport for one Commonwealth Games when it could easily be dropped for the next edition?

For athletes themselves, particularly those who do not quite make Olympic level, having what would likely have been a career highlight snatched away at the whim of a particular host city will be devastating.

Conversely, it could give athletes who never before had the opportunity to compete at a Commonwealth Games a lifeline.

This move could be the start of a new, hugely successful chapter for the Commonwealth Games.

But it could also prove to be the start of its demise.

AND ANOTHER THING

By now, we are all used to medals being awarded retrospectively.

It has become an all too familiar sight to see the upgrading of recent results in the aftermath of a doping conviction.

However, we could be about to see history that is far more established being re-written. In 1980, Sharron Davies won silver in the pool for GB, losing out on gold to East Germany’s Petra Schneider.

Since then, Schneider has admitted to doping – she was part of East Germany’s widespread doping regime – but the results from that time have never been corrected.

This could be about to change though. The announcement from swimming’s governing body, FINA, that they are set to investigate historical doping programmes, such as East Germany’s in the 1970s and 80s, could see results scrapped and medals reallocated if they are found to have been illicitly gained.

To change results 40 years on would be quite a step, and could open the floodgates, but there can be little doubt it is the right thing to do.

Proving doping so far in the past is impossible in many cases, but where athletes have admitted they fraudulently won medals, the record books should be corrected.

It may be decades too late, but better late than never.



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