Only once in the last 20 years the Commonwealth Games have been staged outside the UK or Australia and the CEO of the upcoming Birmingham edition, Ian Reid, feels the multi-sporting event needs to be ‘more affordable’ to be hosted across 56 member nations.
Delhi 2010 was the last edition to be held outside Australia or UK over the past two decades. Australia will be hosting the 2026 Games as well across four centres in the state of Victoria.
Durban was originally supposed to host the 2022 edition but backed out due to financial constraints, bringing Birmingham into the picture.
The Birmingham Games’ budget stands 778 million pounds, making it the most expensive sporting event in the UK since 2012 London Olympics, notwithstanding the challenges the organisers have had to endure due to COVID-19.
The Victorian government has pledged 2.6 billion Australian dollars for the 2026 edition.
Speaking to PTI ahead of the Games beginning July 28, Reid spoke on the need to bring the budgets down to make it more viable for all Commonwealth nations, the relevance of the event formerly called the British Empire Games, India’s role in the CWG movement and the challenges of hosting the upcoming edition in COVID times with a 45,000 workforce.
Q. The Games are back in the UK again, for the third time in the last 20 years. Australia hosted the previous edition and it will be hosting the 2026 as well. How concerning is that trend?
A. I am a huge advocate for trying to get these Games across the Commonwealth nations and not just staying in a few countries. Part of the issue is affordability and making sure the Games are affordable for all countries (to host).
The CGF (world body) is taking some action in relation to that. They have changed programs for future events so that you don’t have to necessarily pick from a long list of mandatory sports, there is much more flexibility.
The countries can look at the existing venues and they choose the sport accordingly so there is no huge requirement to build venues. One can potentially look at encouraging slightly different models where country can stage sports in the different cities. May be the next games in Victoria is a step towards that (four centres).
I was fortunate enough to visit Delhi in 2010 and I had the most incredible experience. It was excellent. I know it had its challenges as we all do. The city was just so welcoming and for me that just that shapes my view of what we discussed. There are some incredible cities in Commonwealth that are yet to host the Games and we need to get there.
Q. So, we need to make the Games more affordable?
A. I think just for the record these Games (Birmingham) will going to be much cheaper than the Gold Coast Games and hopefully the trajectory has changed but there is still work to do.
Q. Some also see the Commonwealth Games as colonial baggage and question its relevance? Where do you stand on it?
A. There is a wider political discussion which we have entered into. The model Commonwealth as we know is a complete voluntary family of nations with the same mission and goals and values, and the Games is one of the main manifestations of that. It has huge number of benefits.
It brings the members together with people engaging and competing with each other. The level of sports is high but for some it is more achievable to win medals in CWG than perhaps the Olympics.
It has huge benefits for the host city which might not be big enough to host the Olympics. It has clearly evolved from the British Empire Games. The modern CWG is a voluntary bond and trade and sporting benefits come with that.
Q. Tokyo Olympics took place last year and COVID-19 presented a unique set of challenges. What has been the biggest challenge for Birmingham 2022?
A. There have been a few challenges. That is for sure. We were awarded the Games in December 2017 but they were originally awarded for 2022 to South Africa.
We have had a shorter timeline, which has been the period to mobilise the organisation, get the systems up and running, the governance in place, recruiting people, all of that has been more challenging.
“Obviously the wider impact as we have been operating in a COVID environment for two years, that has definitely been difficult. For a long time all of our people were working from home, a vast majority of the workforce, we have had to recruit remotely.
Covid also had an impact on the Games Village. It was suppose to be a new facility but construction timelines were impacted so we had to move to an alternative village using university accommodation and large hotels. That Village however will be still be completed for legacy purposes. So it has been difficult but the team has shown resilience and flexibility. We are in pretty good shape.
Q. There were reports in lead up to the Games that a large number of vacancies have not been filled. Is it still an issue?
A. The labour market in the UK is challenging but pleased to say that numbers we need, direct workforce and wider supply chain, we have secured those.
Q. It is unusual for a multi-sporting event to have athletes staying in five different Villages. What are the logistical challenges to that?
A. You would normally have all the athletes in a single site and it makes it easier to manage all the athletes. At the same time, the athletes will be staying much closer to where they are competing than originally planned. So it has its pros and cons.
Q. Women’s cricket is making its Commonwealth Games debut? What are your expectations?
A. I am big cricket fan myself so looking forward to that. India are in the same group as Pakistan. That has really caught the interest here in Birmingham. It will be one of the highlights of the Games.
I had the privilege of watching the India-England cricket game at Edgbaston in the 2019 World Cup. 90 percent of the fans were supporting India. It was an incredible atmosphere and we hope we get a bit of that in Birmingham 2022.
Q. The exclusion of shooting from Birmingham 2022 has left the Indian shooters and fans dejected.
A. We did not have the facilities in the region and it had to be taken to London which would have been incredibly expensive. We reached a very good compromise to host the Commonwealth Championships in Chandigarh but it could not happen due to COVID-19 but discussions continue.
Q. How do you see India’s role in the Commonwealth?
A. India is by far the largest country in the Commonwealth. India’s engagement with the Commonwealth is critical to the Games’ success.
We are looking forward to welcoming a large Indian delegation and Birmingham has got a huge Indian diaspora. I think you would almost be treated like a home nation. We have also got the some of the best Indian chefs at our Games Villages.