Thursday, 2 October, 2014

Published August 02, 2014
Commonwealth Games' uncertain future
BT 20140802 NOHOLDS2 1205450

(Above) Yona Knight-Wisdom of Jamaica competing in the final of the Men's 3m Springboard Competition. - PHOTO: AFP

  • 1 of 2
BT 20140802 NOHOLDS2 1205450
BT 20140802 NOHOLDS2YW4R 1205703

IT'S a question that is raised every four years whenever the Commonwealth Games rolls around. Does anyone really care?

Granted, this sporting event doesn't quite have the grandeur of the Summer Olympics or the mass appeal of the Fifa World Cup, but it is certainly an important fixture in the sporting calendar for the thousands of athletes in the Commonwealth that train hard in a bid to bring glory to their countries.

The 11-day extravaganza got underway in the Scottish city of Glasgow last week and will wrap up tomorrow, bringing to an end an event involving some 6,500 athletes from 71 countries competing in 17 different sports.

I've been following much of the action on TV, with round-the-clock coverage beamed on seven different channels. I've enjoyed watching our dominant table tennis stars battle their way to another haul of medals, and cheered when shooters Jasmine Ser and Teo Shun Xie romped to a gold medal each in their respective events.

Singapore is also guaranteed the gold and silver medals in the table tennis women's singles competition, with a possible bronze too as our paddlers looked to complete a clean sweep in the gold and bronze medal matches (played at press time).

Swimmer Joseph Schooling, the proud winner of the Republic's first-ever Commonwealth Games medal - and a silver one too, at that - in the sport, will give everyone hope that he will be a genuine medal contender at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

We've also seen some bright new talents emerge onto the international sporting scene, such as 13-year-old Erraid Davies, who became the youngest ever medal winner for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games when she won the bronze in the para-100m breaststroke final. While the Commonwealth Games doesn't quite have a unique brand or identity to speak of, unlike other major sporting events, it is heartening that the crowds have turned out in force for the bulk of the events in Glasgow over the past week. Over a million tickets were snapped up by locals and thousands of visitors, with many of the popular events such as athletics, aquatics and boxing completely sold out.

Even with so many inspiring stories unravelling in Glasgow, the future of the Games continues to hang in the balance as people continue to question its significance in the modern sporting world.

There is talk that interest is fast fading as far as bidding for the Games in 2022 and beyond is concerned. The 2018 edition will be held in Australia, after Queensland beat the only other bid city, Hambantota of Sri Lanka. At the recent Commonwealth Games Federation press conference at the end of its General Assembly, outgoing chief executive Mike Hooper played down speculation that some cities have been reluctant to bid for the 2022 Games after the problem-plagued event in New Delhi four years ago.

As things stand, only Durban (South Africa) and Edmonton (Canada) have publicly expressed an interest, with the March 2015 deadline to submit a bid looming large. Cost is one significant concern. Scotland has shelled out over US$1 billion to host this year's Games.

India blew its budget big time when it spent US$8.5 billion in 2010, only to end up with a huge debt, stadiums that have turned into white elephants, and even several lawsuits. Auckland had considered bidding for the 2018 rights but pulled out after the New Zealand government estimated that it would lose about NZ$583 million (S$616.9 million) if it did so.

Each of the Commonwealth nations must also decide how much to invest in their sportsmen and women to send them to an event that, for some of them, amounts to their one and only chance to perform on a global stage.

Some countries have also said that they no longer identify with the "Commonwealth" aspect of the event since they are no longer defined by the British empire any more. One of the biggest challenges facing a host city is the ability to attract the world's top athletes to participate. Household names such as Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Stephanie Rice and long-distance runner Kaster Semenya all withdrew from the Delhi Games. Bolt is in Glasgow but he will only take part in the 4x100m relay and not the individual events. Some of the world's largest corporates have also stayed away from the Commonwealth Games because of a lack of a global audience.

Unfortunately, the Games take place in a day and age when so many global sporting events are competing for the attention of fans and sponsorship dollars. Glasgow has shown that a well-run event can pull in the crowds and boost the profile of the city in the process.

Now it is up to Queensland and the future host cities, however many there might be, to run with the ball and ensure the flame of the Commonwealth Games continues to burn.