Commonwealth Games defying doomsayers

The Commonwealth Games are sometimes seen as a quirky relic in the modern sporting calendar but former International Olympic Committee (IOC) marketing chief Michael Payne says they have consistently defied the doomsayers.

The 22nd edition of the Games opens in Birmingham on Thursday, bringing together around 5,000 athletes from 72 nations and territories — mostly former British colonies to compete in 19 sports over 11 days.

Some track and field stars will be absent when the competition gets under way — just days after the end of the world championships in Eugene, Oregon.

But there will still be plenty of big names on show at the event, which features sports as diverse as lawn bowls and marathon running.

The Commonwealth Games are not on the scale of the Olympics that Birmingham once aspired to host — the city was beaten by Barcelona for the right to put on the 1992 Games — but officials hope they can provide a big economic boost for the area.

According to the Financial Times, the West Midlands Combined Authority estimates the event will be worth pound sterling1 billion ($1.2 billion) to the regional economy.

Payne, credited with transforming the IOC brand and finances through sponsorship, said the Commonwealth Games had shown remarkable resilience over the decades.

“People have been talking of the demise of the Commonwealth Games for nearly half a century but they are still going, so I would not write them off just yet,” he told AFP.

Another former IOC marketing executive, Terrence Burns, who since leaving the organisation has played a role in five successful Olympic bid campaigns, said it was important for the event to find its own niche and evolve accordingly.

“These other Games are not the Olympic Games but tend to try to mirror them in look, feel, and impact,” he said. “That’s just not possible or credible.

“So I think they need to redefine ‘success’ and build their product accordingly.”

The Commonwealth Games have, like other global events in recent years, had trouble in attracting host cities.

“Finding nations willing to host is a challenge for many sports bodies these days,” said Payne. “That is why you have seen a far more flexible process introduced to identify potential hosts.

“But the Commonwealth Games do face a major hurdle, as their marketing and sponsorship revenue potential is limited and, as such, nations wanting to host must be willing to commit to $1 billion of taxpayer support.”

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