The number of athletes and disciplines at future Commonwealth Games are likely to be reduced to prevent the spiralling costs which are creating escalating financial risks for hosts and disenfranchising the poorer African nations from the bidding process.
The Commonwealth Games Federation has indicated that its June symposium in Manchester will address the idea of reining in the scope of future games, possibly by reducing the number of athletes fielded per event, curtailing certain disciplines or even cutting the number of events down to 14 or 15, from the current limit of 17. The move comes amid vast increases in costs, accelerated by the Sydney Olympic Games, which have saddled new host nations with formidable benchmarks for success.
Manchester, which will host the 17th Commonwealth Games in little more than 100 days, has watched costs escalate as it has come under pressure to live up to Sydney's standards. In the showpiece Diamond Jubilee year it is under pressure to prove that Britain does have a reputation for international sporting spectacles, despite withdrawal from the 2005 World Athletics bid following the collapse of the Picketts Lock project.
The Government has employed discreet financial manoeuvres to justify extra financial help for Manchester, including the injection of £13m for the set piece opening and closing ceremonies on grounds that they constitute part of the Jubilee celebrations.
But the city has needed a massive bail-out from the public purse, receiving £110m last year on top of the £138m it had already received from the Government and Sport England to build a raft of 15 new Games facilities.
Manchester taxpayers must underwrite any losses and council leaders had banked on revenue from Manchester Airport – traditionally, a cash cow – until the events of 11 September caused it severe financial problems.
Such headaches make staging a future Commonwealth Games near impossible for the African sub-continent, according to the CGF, which is desperately keen to deliver the event to an African, Asian or Caribbean nation. "We will be saying to bidding cities towards 2010 – don't worry about making it bigger and better," the CGF's Mike Lockhard said. "If an international city like Manchester has found it tough going, how many cities in the developing world can make it bigger? The answer is 'damn all'."
Africa has never staged the Games and though South Africa would appear capable, much depends on whether it will be awarded the 2010 World Cup, having narrowly losing out on the 2006 event. The Nigerian government has also expressed interest in the past, though elections have removed from power all the key players in its approach to the CGF.
The 1998 Games in Kuala Lumpur were only the first in Asia and the CGF also wants to involve the Caribbean. But the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, already seem destined to perpetuate the Games' "inflation", with a new, up-market private property development planned for the athletes' village.
The International Olympic Committee is acutely aware of the same problem. "Sydney proved that, with proper planning, modern cities with sufficient infrastructure capacity can handle the Olympic Games at their present size. It was also clear, however, they cannot get bigger, and that, perhaps, it would be better if they were somewhat smaller," Richard Pound, an IOC member, told a conference of sports media and businesses last year.
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