Commonwealth Games chief David Grevemberg on Durban and being “more of a partner”

David Grevemberg, the chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), talks to SportsPro about the collapse of Durban 2022 and the future of the event.

Commonwealth Games chief David Grevemberg on Durban and being “more of a partner”

The Commonwealth Games is less than a year from its next edition, set for the Australian city of Gold Coast from 4th to 15th April 2018. But recent events have concentrated minds on a date some way beyond that. In March, as the Queen’s Baton Relay launched the countdown to next year’s event, Durban was stripped of the right to hold the 2022 Games as its organisers struggled to cope with the demands of managing such a complex international sporting operation.

The South African city was to be the first in the continent to welcome a Commonwealth Games; its withdrawal highlighted the difficulties facing multi-sport event organisers from the International Olympic Committee downwards. For David Grevemberg, the chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), the episode has concentrated minds on what the movement’s goals are and how to achieve them. Grevemberg spoke to SportsPro during the SportAccord Convention in Aarhus, Denmark earlier this month to discuss the future of the CGF, its signature event, and sport across the Commonwealth.  


What’s the latest on the situation of the 2022 Commonwealth Games after they were stripped from Durban?

Well, we just launched [at the end of March] a process that has reached out to Commonwealth Games associations and cities within the Commonwealth that clearly outlines a timeline for formal expressions of interest which will allow us to really assess who is ready and willing to be able to pursue a 2022 hosting of the Games, and then we can go into a more detailed review process.

But there’s obviously an urgency and I think what we’ve been able to do here is to clarify where we are with a number of the international federations, meet with a number of cities and countries that have potential hosting ambitions, and ultimately just inform suppliers in the industry of where we are, and of course do our normal business in the lead-up to the Bahamas [Commonwealth Youth Games] this summer and, of course, Gold Coast 2018 next year.


What was it in the end that triggered the decision to relieve Durban of its hosting rights?

You know, we worked very, very closely with the South African delivery partnership from even during the bid phase. There were a number of key requirements and recommendations that were made by the evaluation commission that was part of the general assembly’s decision to award the Games, so basically, from the point of the formal awarding in September 2015, we were working with the delivery partnership in South Africa to realise those commitments. And, simply, things changed quite a bit in terms of the social and economic environment within South Africa during that time and, obviously being sensitive to that, we continued to work with some agility to try to accomplish those elements. But, ultimately, they were unable to honour those commitments and we needed to make a very difficult decision around that.

But I think what it has reinforced is our commitment to Africa; that we are committed to hosting the Games there. We’ve had to postpone these ambitions but we remain absolutely committed to hosting the Games in Africa at some point. It’s still a very big priority in terms of our work.


Is it a concern for you that you weren’t able to make this happen and that, while there has been a lot of interest from cities in 2022, those are from recurring host nations like the UK, Australia and Canada and there isn’t an opportunity to take the Games to a new country?

I think, in combination, we need to continue to deliver the strategic objectives of Transformation 2022, which really looks to strengthen the hosting pipelines across cities across the Commonwealth. We need to do that for our Youth Games and we need to continue to do that for the main Games.

So I think, if anything, it’s just reinforced the importance of that strategy, that was also adopted under our vision, our mission, which is very much still in play. And it’s affirmed that our vision to build peaceful, sustainable, and prosperous communities globally through the power of sport – and ultimately athletes and citizens – is very relevant today, and we need to continue to hold strong to that, use the Games as a catalyst to drive that value proposition to cities, and ultimately be able to take the cities to more places. We’re happy that people are interested in hosting us but it’s important that we continue to encourage and promote the wider Commonwealth – the global Commonwealth – to host these events, and enable the Commonwealth to do so.



Is there anything practical that you’ve learned and that you’ll take from this experience with Durban – not just in the last few weeks but in the months and years building up to that?

I think we need to continue to look at the bidding process. I think we need to continue to look at our approach to solidifying guarantees as part of that process. But also, ultimately – and again, this is helping to accelerate the need for a delivery partnership approach – we need to be more of a partner in the process.

We’ve tried to do that and we started in that process even during that bid phase, but we need to be an even more active partner and not just a bid and contract auditor. That’s not to say that’s what we have been, but we need to augment that with even more support and resources, taking multi-Games approaches instead of single-Games approaches in terms of delivery. We’ve got the trajectory, we’ve got the vision, we’ve got the strategy to do it – now it’s just about implementing that. I think this gives us the impetus to accelerate that delivery.

"You don’t build a city to host a Games; you build a city and host a Games as part of the process of building that city."

Durban is a special case but are these themes that are common across multi-sport Games? The Olympics’ problems with attracting bidders have been well documented but you also had the Asian Games moving and so on in recent years.

Community engagement, community buy-in, is critical in this day and age. The value for money proposition in relation to impact that goes well beyond economic impact – social impact, environmental impact of events. This notion of not only building world class facilities but world class facilities that are community-relevant and have a transformational capability of generational benefit, and that’s something that I think as we look at smarter ways of hosting combined with smarter city planning, that the two need to go hand in hand and be part of a much longer play.

You don’t build a city to host a Games; you build a city and host a Games as part of the process of building that city. I think that’s something that’s just been reinforced.

I think when you look at emerging markets, regenerative markets and sustained markets, each context is different. Thematically, the delivery, the rationale and the justification for investment is different, and I think as Games owners we need to really understand that and respect that. The normal transport, security, and accommodation, and the appropriateness – the resonance and relevance – of the sports programme are particularly important, and we need to continue to build agility in how we approach those cycles, understanding timelines, and then providing sustainable value. That’s critical.

And then it’s how we measure success – beyond just the commercial acquisition or gain. That’s also very much on the side of the municipal rights holder as well, and talks again to peace, sustainability, prosperity. Are we leaving these cities more peaceful? Are we leaving them more sustainable? And are we leaving them more prosperous?

Durban had expected to become the first African host of the Commonwealth Games but was stripped of the 2022 event last month

At what point do you start thinking now about ’26 and how you start implementing those things into that process?

Oh, we’ve been thinking about that for a while. This is all part of that trajectory and is allowing us to look all the way out to 2030 at how we deliver these events smarter and in partnership. That’s part of the plan. So 2022 is very much a launchpad and not a landing point, so the opportunity is still very much alive to get that trajectory out to 2030 just right. And I think with the interest in the Games coming from so many cities it allows us to have that conversation.


What are you expecting now from Gold Coast, which is less than a year away?

It’ll be a great Games. It’ll continue the momentum built in Glasgow, and of course both Samoa and Bahamas in our youth Games. I think they’re really, really proud of the work they’ve done in terms of venue construction, the positioning of the legacy proposition within Gold Coast city – which speaks to our three impact areas and our vision. But I’m also very proud of the work they’ve done in terms of the reconciliation action plan, in terms of embracing and engaging the indigenous community – both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – which is an absolutely critical piece to our engagement. But I think that they’re assembling a good team and have a good partnership. Momentum is picking up, the IFs are looking forward to it, we’re looking forward to it, and all the CGAs are looking forward to it as well.

It’s a fantastic backdrop to host an event. Australia loves sport, so we’re really confident and excited. They’ve had great numbers in terms of volunteer applications as well, and ticketing has just opened, so they’re hitting all the milestones. The Queen’s Baton Relay is on the run, so to speak, and going throughout Africa right now, and continues to engage communities in a really inclusive and accessible way which is what we’re really all about. If you do have the chance, take a look at the pictures coming out of the Queen’s Baton Relay and you’ll really see what our diverse Commonwealth is all about.


We may or may not see changes in how countries in that diverse Commonwealth – thinking particularly of the UK after Brexit – deal with each other in the years ahead. How closely do you pay attention to that kind of thing?

It’s interesting. We’ve become part of the Commonwealth Hub in the past couple of months. Again, this was one of our strategic items in Transformation 2022, which was to come closer and to essentially cooperate with Commonwealth agencies and institutions, of which there are so many based in London. We now cohabitate with the Royal Commonwealth Society, the Commonwealth Local Governments’ Forum, the Commonwealth Secretariat – Commonwealth Hub is what it’s called, right off of Pall Mall in central London.

It’s already stimulating exchanges and cooperation, which is allowing us to reach multi-sector, public/private and third sector in different and smarter ways. That really allows us to get the power of sport out and also take this ‘Commonwealth’ designation and make it a Commonwealth movement. And that’s what’s really exciting about it. There’s just so much rich, powerful content that’s coming from it, whether it’s a particular cause or initiative related to environment or human rights, we’re much better connected. And we’re working with agencies that specialise in these areas and the impact.

We’re solidifying the brand – Commonwealth – and actually showing that it’s a cult action but it’s also very impactful. It is agile, and very diverse – and globally relevant, and I think that’s the powerful thing. It’s not just relevant to the Commonwealth, it’s relevant to the rest of the world, and that’s a very powerful place to be in terms of doing, ultimately, what we’re trying to do, and that’s create a brand that is a force for good.