October 23, 2021

Commonwealth Games: Compulsory sports cut to two – athletics and swimming – to give host cities choice

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Australian surfer Owen Wright
Surfing is a sport that could be included at future Commonwealth Games

The number of compulsory sports that Commonwealth Games hosts will have to stage in future is set to be cut from 16 to just two.

Under a radical new ‘strategic roadmap’ designed to preserve the event’s future, only athletics and swimming will enjoy protected status.

With Games bosses struggling to convince cities to bid for the event, the shake-up is designed to give potential hosts more choice over their programme.

As well as greater freedom to select urban and e-sports in a bid to appeal to younger audiences, cities will be encouraged to select entirely new disciplines that are popular locally.

In an attempt to drive down costs and innovate, co-hosting will be encouraged and there will be no requirement for an athletes’ village.

However, there will inevitably be anxiety among the many sports whose place in the programme will no longer be mandatory.

And for non-Olympics sports like squash, netball and lawn bowls – for whom the Commonwealth Games is the pinnacle of their calendar – the reforms will be especially worrying.

“Our Games need to adapt, evolve and modernise to ensure we continue to maintain our relevance and prestige,” said Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) president Dame Louise Martin.

She said the roadmap, approved at a meeting of the CGF General Assembly, “marks the start of an exciting new era for the Games”.

Nineteen sports will feature at Birmingham 2022, but the new proposals recommend that is reduced to around 15 for the 2026 event.

According to the CGF, athletics and swimming are being protected “due to their historical place on the programme since 1930, and based on universality, participation, broadcasting, spectator interest, Para-inclusion and gender balance”.

The list of mandatory, core sports has fluctuated significantly over the years.

There are 16 for Birmingham 2022; athletics (including Para-athletics), badminton, boxing, road cycling, artistic gymnastics, hockey, judo, lawn bowls (including Para-bowls), netball, rugby sevens, squash, swimming (including Para-swimming), table tennis, triathlon, weightlifting/powerlifting and freestyle wrestling.

Organisers could then choose from a pre-determined list of optional sports, with diving, basketball (3×3 and wheelchair), mountain biking, track and time trial cycling, rhythmic gymnastics, Para-triathlon, beach volleyball, women’s T20 cricket and Para-table tennis selected for Birmingham.

By restricting the number of mandatory sports to just athletics and swimming, the new roadmap will allow hosts the space to choose the likes of surfing, skateboarding and climbing – all new to the Olympic programme – along with e-sports.

Sports that are especially popular in a host country – such as lacrosse in Canada or kabaddi in India – would also be encouraged.

All sports will now enter a period of consultation, but an insider at one international federation said the plans would “keep everyone on their toes”.

“Let [hosts] choose what they want to have, what they can do, and who can they share with to host the event” Dame Louise told BBC Sport.

“I think that would be a win-win situation for everybody because then it opens up Commonwealth Games to other smaller countries and, to me, that is the way forward.

“What we have to do is find the sports that the youth of today work with. So nothing is off the table.”

According to insiders, Australia, Canada, India and Sri Lanka have expressed interest in staging the 2026 Games but, as yet, a host has not been secured,

“I am quietly confident that we will be announcing [the 2026 host] in the first quarter of next year, prior to Birmingham,” said Dame Louise. “We are working with cities and countries.

“Hopefully next year we will be able to showcase that you can bring in other countries to host together. We’ve been trying hard to get the smaller countries to host a Games, but they are too small to do it the way it’s gone.

“So that is why we are looking at the roadmap, to see what is necessary, what do we really need to do. If somebody has a fantastic athletics stadium but the country next to them has got a fantastic shooting range, link up together and see what we can do.”

In other approved recommendations, the roadmap states an integrated Para-sport programme must remain a key part of the Games and mass-participation events would also be encouraged.

In 2017, Durban was stripped of the right to stage the 2022 Games after a trail of missed deadlines and financial problems, highlighting the burdens facing host cities for major sporting events.

The CGF was left with a choice of just two cities as replacement – Birmingham and Liverpool.

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