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Commonwealth Games

Volume 832: debated on Thursday 7 September 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the recent decisions by the governments of (1) Victoria, Australia, and (2) Alberta, Canada, to withdraw from bids to host the Commonwealth Games in 2026 and 2030.

My Lords, His Majesty’s Government recognise the great value of major sporting events such as the Commonwealth Games, particularly with the United Kingdom having hosted the Games twice in the past decade. Last year’s Games in Birmingham demonstrated the power of sport in bringing people together and building a foundation for a wide-ranging legacy that will deliver benefits for many years to come. We therefore urge the Commonwealth Games Federation to work towards a sustainable resolution for 2026 and 2030.

I thank the Government very much for their urgency in trying to ensure that we find a solution: I hope that we see that in the weeks and months to come. The Commonwealth Games are a fabulous exhibition of the benefit of the Commonwealth and the coming together of many nations from right across the globe. They are one of the most popular and successful multisport international events that we see. In both Birmingham and Glasgow in the past decade, we have seen not just the sporting benefits but the economic benefits of the Games to the cities and the wider regions. So, will the Government work with the national teams of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland to make sure that they rule out no options in order to deal with this immediate emergency of the Games not having a host for 2026? Will they also work with other Governments in the Commonwealth and with the Commonwealth Games Federation to make sure that, in the long term, the Commonwealth Games are able to be hosted by countries that are not the large, richer, white countries of the Commonwealth but are other countries in the Commonwealth, so that “commonwealth” goes back into the Commonwealth Games?

Yes, we absolutely agree with the noble Lord. It is important that the Games remain a truly global Games. He is right to point to the economic benefits as well as the many other benefits that hosting the Games can accrue; he will know this very well, of course, from his own involvement with the successful Glasgow Games in 2014. Our interim assessment of the Games in Birmingham last year shows that they added £870 million of GVA to the UK economy, more than half of that going to the West Midlands, and we look forward to the fuller economic analysis coming soon. My right honourable friend the Sports Minister has met the Commonwealth Games Federation to talk about the urgency with which it is looking at this issue and we are keen for it to find a resolution.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, is quite right. Will the Government work very closely with Marlborough House and the secretariat to ensure that there is momentum behind recovery, and we do not let the Games just die? Will his colleagues bear in mind that the Commonwealth network is in many ways our own gateway to the great markets of Asia and Africa, as well as a bulwark against Chinese domination in the developing world? We need them just as much as they need us.

My noble friend, who is a strong supporter of the Commonwealth, makes a very valuable point about the Games’ geopolitical importance as well the great fun they involve for everyone taking part and the legacy they can bring in terms of sports participation and economic benefit. We are speaking to the Commonwealth Games Federation, which makes the decision here, but it is an issue we will of course raise with the Commonwealth at every appropriate level.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of Sport Wales and I also competed at three Commonwealth Games at the beginning, middle and end of my career. We should not forget that the Manchester inclusive Games played a big part in us winning 2012. What assessment has been made of the impact on disability sport of potentially losing the Games, as they do have a significant role to play in developing talented British athletes?

Your Lordships’ House benefits from sports people who have competed at every level, and I am glad that the noble Baroness has made her point. We hope that we do not lose the Games; we are working with the Commonwealth Games Federation to ensure that the Games go ahead and there is a sustainable resolution for both 2026 and 2030. She is right to point to their importance in the sporting pipeline for people of all abilities, and that is why we would like to see them continue.

My Lords, I accept that this is not the direct responsibility of the Government, except Chancellor as a leading member of the Commonwealth. Does the Minister believe that this disaster may be the responsibility of the Commonwealth Secretariat, which has not handled it terribly well, or does he believe that the Games have become a financial extravaganza, way beyond the days when my noble friend Lord Campbell participated? May I cheekily ask whether he believes it would help if the Commonwealth Games followed the recent proposal of the Olympic Committee to add cricket to the roster of games played?

The Governments of Alberta and Victoria have cited cost as a reason for their decision. That is curious in the light of Birmingham’s experience, where the Games came in £70 million under budget and the Government gave that money to the West Midlands Combined Authority to spend on a variety of important initiatives, including cultural and sporting ones, in that part of the UK. So it is possible to deliver a Games that everyone can enjoy, as they did in Birmingham, on time and on budget, and we are very happy to share the lessons of Birmingham’s successful hosting with those who might want to bid. My right honourable friend the Sports Minister has been speaking to the federation about learning those lessons.

My Lords, this has happened a few times before. Can the Minister ensure that His Majesty’s Government do more to facilitate discussions on the future direction of the competition? Does it need to be reinvented somehow or does more thought need to be given to reducing the costs to hosts? Would it perhaps be more sustainable if the frequency of the Games was varied to match economic needs? Thinking about my own city, which has finally entered the Europa League this year, there are clear economic benefits demonstrated from hosting events like that. Are the Government doing enough to promote participation in wider international sporting competitions so that we can reap the benefit of the economic boost they bring to our country?

Yes, we fully recognise the important economic boost that hosting major sporting events can bring. Sport is estimated to be worth over £38 billion a year to our economy. The hosting of the women’s Euros in 2022 generated economic activity of £81 million across the eight host cities that welcomed visitors and supported 1,200 full-time equivalent jobs. It also saw a 140% increase in participation among girls in the season after the tournament—so the benefits are manifold. The Commonwealth Games Federation is exploring all options to secure the long-term viability of the Commonwealth Games. It has committed to putting a firmer plan in place by the time of its general assembly in November.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister will know that the highly successful 1908 summer Olympics in London was a multisport event that ran for seven months, with many sports being organised sequentially. Given how expensive it is to run the Commonwealth Games and how few countries can afford to do so, would the Government consider supporting a Commonwealth Games where different Commonwealth countries were invited to host different sporting events in the same year? It would make the Games a great festival of Commonwealth sport that would be more affordable and would allow more sports and more countries to be added to the Games’ agenda.

I missed the Games that my noble friend mentioned at the outset of his question, but his suggestion is a good one. The Commonwealth Games Federation is looking at all options. It is important that the Games remain a truly global event and I will pass on his very sensible suggestion to my right honourable friend the Sports Minister.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the increase in sports participation that followed the Commonwealth Games. Typically, there is also a rise in volunteering, and we know from 2012 that sadly this was not sustained after the Games. What lessons were learned from that, and did we see a rise in volunteering around the Birmingham Commonwealth Games that we will see sustained?

Our full impact assessment of the Birmingham Games will follow early in the new year, so I will draw out the points the noble Baroness rightly raises. The legacy of hosting these major events is manifold. There was a brilliant cultural programme that sat alongside the Birmingham Games and was enjoyed by millions of people around the world watching on television, as well as those who visited in person. That is exactly why we are so proud to host such large events.

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that it is entirely possible to have an economic model that works for Commonwealth Games, as has been seen in Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester? Would he like to remind the House that when good Games become great Games there is an economic, educational, environmental, social, sporting and infrastructure legacy for decades to come?

I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend and would remind your Lordships’ House that the Birmingham Games came in £70 million under budget. They brought great joy to everyone who watched them and participated, and they were done with great economic success.