Malaysia to Mull Emergency Bid to Host 2026 Commonwealth Games

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Malaysia to Mull Emergency Bid to Host 2026 Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games Federation is frantically seeking replacements for the Australian state of Victoria, which pulled out of hosting last year due to spiraling costs.

Malaysia to Mull Emergency Bid to Host 2026 Commonwealth Games

Tobi Amusan of Nigeria leads from Michelle Jenneke of Australia in the heats of the Women’s 100m hurdle at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, which took place in Birmingham, United Kingdom, from July 28 to August 8, 2022.

Credit: Depositphotos

This week, Malaysia’s Cabinet will discuss a proposal to hold a “downsized” version of the Commonwealth Games in 2026, replacing the original host, the Australian state of Victoria, which pulled out of the event last year.

According to a Reuters report published on Monday, the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) had offered Malaysia $127.33 million in supporting funds if it decides to take over as host. The CGF offer would be funded from the A$380 million ($254 million) in compensation paid by Victoria after canceling the event.

The offer has received a mixed response in Malaysia, which hosted the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, for much the same fiduciary reasons. A former sports minister criticized the idea as “reckless,” given the shortage of time that the country would have to prepare for the event.

The cabinet is expected to discuss the matter at a Cabinet meeting on Friday, Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh told reporters yesterday.

“We could announce our decision after the Cabinet has discussed the matter. The Prime Minister has just returned from his visit to Germany, and we expect a lengthy discussion to ensure all aspects are covered,” she said.

Yeoh did not comment on whether the suggestion for Malaysia to co-host the Games with Singapore would be considered. “I cannot preempt the Cabinet discussion, this will only be decided and announced after that,” she said.

Last year, Victoria announced that it was pulling out of hosting the event, due to spiraling costs that had approached $7 billion. A lot of this was connected with the state’s plans for a regional Games, which would take place both in the state capital Melbourne and in regional areas of the state, including Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton, Geelong, and Gippsland. “I will not take money out of hospitals and schools to fund an event that is three times the cost as estimated and budgeted for last year,” Victorian State Premier Dan Andrews said at the time.

This has been followed by speculation about where the games will be held, and debates about the future of the quadrennial event, which began its life in 1930 as the British Empire Games. There are few ready replacements. As Reuters notes in this explainer, Victoria was only granted the games after the English city of Birmingham, the initial host for 2026, stepped in to save the 2022 event, after South Africa was stripped of hosting rights over a lack of progress in preparations. As it notes, “Victoria was left as the only viable candidate after several other cities pulled out of the bidding process over cost concerns.”

If hosting the event was too expensive for Victoria, it will likely pose similar issues for Malaysia. In comments to the press on Monday, Mohd Nazifuddin Najib, the secretary-general of the Olympic Council of Malaysia, said there were several ways that the country could reduce costs, such as using standard accommodation to house athletes and officials instead of building a dedicated Games “village.” Malaysia is also hosting the Southeast Asia Games in 2027, which might help relieve some of the financial burden.

“We feel that this can be a downsized Games,” he said. “For example, it doesn’t have to be 15 sports, it can be 10 sports. And then we have a smaller opening and smaller closing (ceremonies). We can discuss all of this but it’s best for this decision to come from the government.”

There has also been a suggestion that Malaysia could co-host the games with Singapore, which, said last week it was “assessing the feasibility” of a separate CGF invitation to host the games.

“There is a possibility that we can collaborate with Singapore,” Nazifuddin said, “but there is also a possibility that Singapore can decide to take over as the organizer and we miss this opportunity.”

The difficulty of finding a host for 2026 raises questions about the economic benefit of hosting large-scale sporting events. Yesterday brought the news that the Australian state of Queensland had sought advice about canceling the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which are due to be held in Brisbane, presumably again due to cost. The Queensland state government has denied the reports.