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Jamie Gardner | Birmingham 2022 was a success but innovation will be key to Commonwealth Games’ future

After being on the ground for a successful Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, PA Media's chief sports reporter explores how the event's new roadmap can help it stay relevant in the long term.

16 August 2022 Jamie Gardner

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The Commonwealth Games’ formula of innovation and flexibility can help sustain it well into the future, according to a major sports event consultant.

Birmingham has justifiably drawn praise for its capable and convivial hosting of the event this summer, and demonstrated to those who have described it as an irrelevance that there is still public appetite for it.

Keeping that enthusiasm alive and taking the Games to new members of the Commonwealth in the future will be more challenging, but James Savage, the head of sports advisory at Deloitte’s Sport Business Group, is encouraged by what he can see.

The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) unveiled a new roadmap in October last year which essentially gives future Games hosts unprecedented leeway in how the event they host will look.

Only two sports are compulsory – athletics and swimming. Victoria 2026, in conjunction with the CGF, has already confirmed 16 sports as part of its programme with the intention of adding three or four more later this year.

Savage, who during his time with Deloitte has worked as a consultant for cities bidding to stage Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games in the past, said: “The important difference the Commonwealth Games has compared to other multi-sport events is the selection of the sports rests with the hosts’ organising committee, in parallel with the CGF.

“I think the ability to tailor each edition of the Games, to have events that can target either a specific demographic or will appeal to the local population, is its best strength.

“Athletics and aquatics are the only compulsory sports so there’s a huge portfolio of other potential sports to tap into.”

The Commonwealth Esports Championships took place for the first time on the final weekend of the Games

Even within that enhanced freedom to choose, organisers will also work with federations to test out new formats of sports which, everyone hopes, may engage younger audiences.

The CGF’s chief executive Katie Sadleir says she wants her organisation to be the “partner of choice” for international federations looking to innovate, and spent a great deal of her time during the Games meeting with them to discuss this.

She said on the penultimate day of the Birmingham Games: “The discussions have been ‘What is your next thing? What does it look like? How have you thought about rolling it out? How can we work with you on that?’

“We want to be known as an innovative, evolving, relevant Games and we want to do that in partnership with the federations and they’ve come back with some really exciting things.”

An early example of this success is the introduction in Birmingham of 3×3 basketball for wheelchair and non-disabled athletes, which proved hugely popular in a city centre location at the old Smithfield fruit and veg market.

Birmingham also marked the first appearance of cricket at a multi-sport event, as the International Cricket Council (ICC) continues to lobby for the sport’s inclusion in the programme for the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Savage said: “Using these sports that do have more cutting edge, shorter, sharper, punchier, bolder approaches definitely can be a USP for the Commonwealth Games as a movement.

“Bringing sports to a new audience, increasing the overlap with esports and an increased use of technology are vital for events such as these multi-sport games to evolve and appeal to the younger generation.”

Savage does not anticipate esports becoming part of the full Games programme for Victoria but expects it to remain aligned, as it was in Birmingham with the Commonwealth Esports Championship taking place at the city’s International Convention Centre on the final weekend of the Games.

He believes there could also be a role for more virtual sport at the Games in future.

“You can do sports like rowing, cycling, running, you could have competitors in various locations around the world competing against each other virtually,” he added.

“I see that being not necessarily in the Games itself, but I can see there being growth in that area, from international federations as a whole.”

There is flexibility too in how you host, as well as what you host.

By accident rather than design, Birmingham utilised three athletes’ villages rather than one, after plans for one site at Perry Barr were scrapped due to a decision to delay the construction project.

CGF chief executive Katie Sadleir (centre) wants her organisation to be the “partner of choice” for international federations looking to innovate

The multi-village model will be deployed again in Victoria, which will be a genuine state-wide Games with four regional hubs in Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat and Gippsland, each with its own athletes’ village.

Staging the Games across a state roughly the same size as the British Isles shows the direction of travel away from city bids to state, single country and even multi-country bids.

African countries have already raised this possibility with Sadleir during a sports ministers’ meeting on the eve of the Birmingham Games, and Savage believes in the long term this is something the CGF will take a look at.

“Physical distances between venues has been proven over the last decade not to be an issue,” he said.

“So provided the political will and appetite is there and the equitable sharing of infrastructure and development costs, then I think it’s definitely a possibility that we could be moving in that multi-country direction for future hosts.”

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