The Commonwealth Games needs to be “modern and quirky” to remain relevant to young audiences, according to association chief Katie Sadleir, who praised the 2022 host city of Birmingham for an “outstanding job”.
The 57-year-old former synchronized swimmer said the Games needed to show how “they are different and individual from other events in a crowded sporting calendar.”
The 2022 Games, with participants from 72 nations and territories, many of which are former British colonies, came to a close on Monday with Australia topping the medals tally.
Sadleir, chief executive officer of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), said that ticket sales in the city of Midlands had come close to those of Melbourne in 2006 and the Games had gone smoothly despite numerous obstacles.
Birmingham stepped in at relatively short notice to organize the games after South Africa’s Durban were forced to withdraw due to a series of problems, including financial problems.
The city also faced the major hurdle of the coronavirus but managed to host an event that caused a stir.
Taking place in the Australian state of Victoria, the 2026 Games will be spread across four hubs – Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and Gippsland – rather than being concentrated in one city.
Sadleir hopes this will serve as a model for future events and give potential bidders more flexibility.
A CGF ‘roadmap’ for the future was rolled out in October, a month before Sadleir took up her role after five years as general manager of women’s rugby at World Rugby.
Going forward, hosts can offer sports relevant to their country, with swimming and track and field being the only mandatory events.
“A flexible sports program brings in sports that are important to you (the host),” Sadleir said.
“Let’s look at them more modern and edgy than the traditional ones and find a good balance for the future.”
Sadleir said part of her probationary period will be “getting 2026 across the border,” which is a huge relief.
“Victoria is a kind of model that works for regions or countries. It’s kind of exciting.”
The Australian state has made it clear it wants more than a sporting legacy from the Games.
“Victoria believes in how sport can transform the social and economic issues they face,” she said.
“The Victorian Government has been very committed to investing in a social housing scheme. That will be the legacy.”
Such a model could pave the way for African nations to host the Games together perhaps as early as 2034.
Canada’s Hamilton is in the running for the 2030 Centennial Games along with two or three other prospects.
“At a sports ministers’ conference ahead of the games, many African countries said, ‘When is our turn?'” Sadleir said.
“In terms of region-based games, I think we can sit down with African countries that are really interested in looking into this and do a feasibility study.
“We’ve been able to see which countries – let’s say two or three together – are best suited to host one and that’s really exciting.
“We could sit down with development banks and talk about the structure of government and think about their sports policy in the long term.
“There could be African Games in 2034 or 2038, why not?”
Scottish-born Sadleir, who represented New Zealand at the 1984 Olympics and won a bronze medal at the 1986 Commonwealth Games, said it was crucial not to get “stale”.
“We have to move with the times and take into account the fact that 60 percent of the 2.5 billion people in the Commonwealth are aged 29 or younger,” she said.
“We need to be open to innovation and change and make things attractive to young people.
“We want to be edgy and open to testing things.”
But she remains adamant the Games are in a healthy state, despite frequent accusations that the event is a quirky sporting relic.
“People ask, ‘Is the Commonwealth movement dead?'” she said. “Well, it doesn’t seem like that to me.
“Look at the ticket sales, look who’s showing up here, Victoria got on board very quickly for 2026.
“It’s very relevant, absolutely. As they say, it’s never over until it’s over.”