Saturday, 18 August 2012

Could Wales host a Commonwealth Games?

Dai Green won gold for Wales in Delhi 2010.
Could Wales be preparing a bid for the Commonwealth Games in 2026?
(Pic : BBC)
Continuing the sporting theme this week....

In the last few days it's been (re)announced that the Welsh Government and Cardiff Council are considering a bid for the Commonwealth Games at some point in the future – probably off the back of the London Olympics and forthcoming Paralympics. So today, I've decided to have a look at any possible bid in a little more detail, and try and answer/brainstorm some of the more fundamental questions surrounding a bid.

The Welsh Government has its own ten-year Major Events Strategy, which was launched back in 2010. The strategy outlines what's considered a "major event", the sorts of events Wales could bid to host, as well as how major events fit in with various strategies.

What are the Commonwealth Games?

Forgive me if I'm patronising you here.

The Commonwealth Games is a multi-sport event hosted every four years – like the Olympics, but with fewer events and participating nations. In 2014 the 20th Commonwealth Games will be hosted in Glasgow, Scotland.

Disabled and abled athletes compete in one competition, in separate streams. It's also the only event of its kind where Wales competes as a separate nation – that's probably one of the reasons why I've always enjoyed the Commonwealth Games a little bit more than the Olympics. Whether Wales would become a Commonwealth member upon (any eventual) independence is a matter for another day.

What's required to host?

The Commonwealth Games sports are (for 2014) :
  • Aquatics : Swimming, Diving
  • Athletics : Track & Field, Triathlon
  • Combat Sports : Boxing, Judo, Wrestling
  • Cycling : Road, Track, Mountain
  • Gymnastics : Artistic, Rhythmic
  • Lawn Bowls
  • Shooting
  • Raquet Sports : Badminton, Squash, Table Tennis
  • Team Sports : Field Hockey, Netball, Rugby Sevens
  • Weightlifting

Other sports that are recognised, could realistically appear, or have previously appeared include : Archery, Billiards, Cricket (50 over or T20) Darts, Football, Golf, Life saving, Rowing, Sailing, Snooker, Wheelchair Rugby, Volleyball and Tennis.

Earlier this week, I made a suggestion that Welsh/British baseball could be included as an "exhibition sport" (an unofficial competition to promote the sport).

Where could Wales host it?

There are three options really : Cardiff, Swansea & Newport

It's been suggested that should Wales bid, the events could be spread across the south Wales cities.
It's not impossible, but not ideal either. There would be significant logistical challenges to overcome. Ultimately, it's single cities bidding to host these events, with a few events taken out further for practical reasons (mountain biking needs mountains, for example).

On those criteria, realistically only Cardiff could host it alone (perhaps Swansea at a push, but with more venues needing construction). However, for this exercise, a "three-way" bid between the south Wales cities is used.

The issue now, is precisely where events could be hosted.


The Millennium Stadium would need to be modified to host athletics competitions, or at the very least host the opening and closing ceremonies.

Raising the level of the playing surface to fit in an athletics track should be relatively straightforward. They're doing this at Hampden Park for the Glasgow games, and the cost is around £20million. However, there are different field dimensions at Hampden Park, and it would be harder to do something similar at the Millennium Stadium. It would mean a reduced capacity, but the roof is a big, big bonus considering our typical summer climate.

It would almost certainly put the Millennium Stadium out of action for several months, perhaps longer. Whether the WRU would be happy with that begs the question.

If it were the case that a new athletics stadium had to be built, the obvious choice would to be the existing Leckwith stadium. It would likely be a temporary stadium for around 40-50,000 spectators - reduced post-Games to something a lot smaller, but capable of hosting Diamond League events for example.

Events like the Triathlon might need to be moved elsewhere. Parc Bryn Bach, near Tredegar in Blaenau Gwent, has been mooted.


Aquatics events could be hosted by an upgraded National Pool in Swansea, or an upgrade to the International Pool in Cardiff. The latter would be more likely I'd expect, but the National Pool was built with international standards in mind, and would probably be the easier to upgrade.


The Newport Velodrome would likely need a modest
upgrade to host Commonwealth track cycling events.

The Newport Velodrome would need to be upgraded to host cycling, but that's another obvious choice. A temporary velodrome could be constructed somewhere in Cardiff – possibly the Maendy pool site - but that would seem like a duplication/waste of time & money.

There would be several candidates for Mountain Biking : Afan Argoed, Brechfa Forest, Margam Park, perhaps more.

The Cycling road race could be a straight north-south A470 route, with laps added where required, finishing in Cardiff Bay.

Outdoor Team Sports/Other Outdoor events

  • Rugby Sevens could be easily hosted at Cardiff City Stadium, or the Liberty Stadium in Swansea.
  • Hockey could be hosted at UWIC or the University of Glamorgan in Treforest.
  • Lawn Bowls could be hosted at the Bowls Club in Sophia Gardens.
  • Shooting might be particularly difficult to find a venue for, perhaps Cardiff Castle grounds, Vale of Glamorgan Hotel or Margam Park.

Indoor Events

Could the abortive Havannah Quay scheme in
Cardiff be kick started by becoming an athletes village?
(Pic : The Penny
The National Institute for Sport, Motorpoint Arena, Talybont Sports Centre, the proposed new Cardiff Devil's stadium in Cardiff Bay and the Newport Centre could all host various indoor events (Gymnastics, Weightlifting, Boxing, Raquet Sports), probably requiring moderate upgrades to do so.

If other sports were introduced, venues would also need to be found for them too. Many of these venues would likely be temporary - like the Beach Volleyball venue at Horseguards Parade recently.

Then there's the other issues :
  • Where would the athletes village go?
  • Would transport cope with a sudden influx of visitors?
  • Are there enough high-quality hotel rooms for visitors/media/officials?
  • Will Cardiff Airport even be open then?
  • If the bid is spread over several cities, how would athletes and officials get to venues?

I would've thought the obvious place for an athletes village would have been the Ely Mill site, but that's up for redevelopment now. Any athletes village (for up to 6,000 competitors) will need to be as close to the venues as possible. Using existing student accommodation might be enough, but that's a stop-gap solution as well as scattered all over the place. Another candidate could be Havannah Quay on the banks of the Taff.

Timescales and Rivals

The 2018 Games will be hosted by Gold Coast, Australia, so that's one date unavailable. There wouldn't have been "back to back" British Isle bids anyway.

To date, the games have never been hosted in Africa. I'm going to guess that Abuja, Nigeria (who failed in their 2014 bid) or somewhere in South Africa (Durban is mooted) would win a 2022 bid. It would almost certainly go back to Canada at some point in the next few cycles too.

Realistically, 2026 or 2030 is the earliest Wales could host it.

There could be competition from the likes of Birmingham, Canadian cities and possibly African cities too (if they don't host the 2022 games). Some of these cities could host a Commonwealth Games with minimal fuss - unlike Cardiff. There's also the outside possibility that London might bid at some point, perhaps to celebrate some sort of Commonwealth anniversary, to make use of Olympic venues.

Costs and Benefits

The Glasgow Games in 2014 will boost the Scottish economy by as much as £81million,
but the costs of staging the games themselves have ballooned - as most big events do.
(Pic :
The estimated price tag for the Commonwealth Games is around £530million. It's significantly cheaper to host than an Olympic Games, but doesn't come with the same international exposure or prestige. Despite that, short of co-hosting a UEFA European Championships, it's the biggest single event Wales could ever hope to host.

Funding would come from corporate sponsorship, National Lottery funding, host local authorities and the Welsh Government. It's unlikely that the Welsh Government would be bearing the costs alone, though they would have to make a significant contribution. The Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council have underwritten at least 80% of the £523million cost of the Glasgow games (a cost that has risen over the years).

The economic benefits from the Glasgow games are estimated to be £26million for the host city itself, and up to £81million for Scotland as a whole, with a projected 4% increase in tourist visitor numbers. However, this doesn't include the boost from construction of venues. If Wales hosted a successful games, it might lead to a boost in "national pride", possibly resulting in a boost (short-term at least) in economic productivity.

There are, of course, other benefits. Like the Olympics hope to leave a legacy, a Commonwealth Games might boost participation in sport, which would have a positive impact on the Welsh NHS, general quality of life/well being and the environment. There's also the legacy of improved international-class sporting facilities left behind.

But....this is Wales. The Welsh are amongst the most cynical, browbeaten and pig-headed people in the Western World and that's saying something. Any Commonwealth Games bid would be met with a chorus of negativity. It, coincidentally, has already started today in fact.

First it'll be those opposed to the Welsh Government spending money on anything/existing. Then it'll be those suddenly concerned that we aren't topping up the £6billion+ NHS budget. Then, once the venues are announced, it'll be people from X complaining that "Insert venue location here" is getting too much money while there's dog mess down the park blah, blah blah.

This is why we can't have nice things, and why I think a Commonwealth Games bid would be – to a certain degree - a complete waste of time and effort.


It's certainly feasible for Wales to host a Commonwealth Games based wholly, or entirely, in the Cardiff area. A bid at some point in the future would no doubt be welcomed, but it should also be tempered.

We should warn against overstating the potential benefits "major events" bring to the economy. What they've become are massive adverts really. A giant PR exercise to project a nation on the rest of the world. A rather expensive one too. What sort of Wales would we be projecting in 2026 though? That's the question.

We simply don't know what state Wales is going to be in around 2026. Based on current projections, we could be looking at a public spending to GVA per capita ratio of 70%+, an even older, even sicker population and an Offa's Gap that's an insurmountable Grand Canyon. And we'll still be trundling along, sucking our thumbs, dribbling down our fronts, waiting for miracles and heroes that will never come.

Who would want to host a games celebrating youth, vitality and human physical accomplishment in a nation that stands equivalent to a hospice?

A Commonwealth Games bid in that sort of climate might be nothing more than a welcome distraction.

Maybe the moaners gearing up to inevitably bash this will be right – for once.


  1. Hampden has a much bigger footprint than the MS, I went to a game there once and it seemed I was miles from the pitch. Squeezing a running track into the MS may prove more difficult and far more expensive.

    The National Pool in Swansea falls short of being “Olympic size” as it is only wide enough for 8 lanes, so I would suppose that rules it out. The Cardiff pool has the required 10 lanes, a diving pool would need to be constructed though.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Anon.

    I did mention that Hampden had different dimensions to the MS. I agree that it would be more difficult to put an athletics track in, but it would be a lot cheaper than building a completely new stadium elsewhere as a one-off. It's the WRU that might be the problem, as it's likely Welsh rugby internationals would have to be moved elsewhere for a season, presumably Wembley.

    I thought the pool in Swansea was Olympic size, as that's the pool Welsh elite swimmers use to train, isn't it? I suppose it would have to be Cardiff Pool then.

  3. The Commonwealth Games wouldnt be 'celebrating youth, vitality and human physical accomplishment' thats what the Olympics are for (or were for before the coroporate sponsors took over), it is a blatantly political event designed to drum up support for the Commonwealth, an anti-democracy and anti human rights organisation formed by the English ruling class to make up for the loss of their empire.

    You're absolutely right that such an event would be a (no) bread and circuses distraction from the problems facing our country.

    Wales hosting it would cement our status as a second class country, hosting a second class event because we aren't considered good enough to enter (let alone host) the real thing.

    The figures you quoted say it all cost £523m benefit £81m with most if not all of the money leaving the country into the pockets of the corporate sponsors and their friends.

  4. Sounds like a complete waste of money. I'd rather they ploughed the money into schools and tried to emulate Jamaica. A small poor country who take their athletics seriously.

    Maybe we don't have the demographics to dominate the sprinting but there is no reason we couldn't challenge the middle distances and field events.

    And of course, having fit and healthy kids would help our football and rugby teams and our NHS too.

  5. Thanks for the additional comments.

    Welsh Agenda - All sporting events are becoming pray to interference by corporate sponsors, partly because the costs of staging these events has become so ridiculous, that money needs to come from as many avenues as possible.

    I have my own cynicism regarding the Commonwealth, and you've quite rightly criticised its record before, but I'm only taking the Commonwealth Games bid at face value. It might well be "making up for the loss of empire" but it can't act like that anymore without being accused of colonialism.

    I'm not sure whether the figures I quoted are "profit" on hosting a games or not. I'm surprised it's been quoted as high as it has because many of the venues wouldn't require extensive upgrades. Perhaps I just don't understand how much background work goes into these things. Most of the money, as I see it, would need to go on an athletes village and transport upgrades.

    WNB - Even a small proportion of this money going into grassroots sport would make a huge difference. But the sad fact is, we don't have this money in the first place. It's all academic for the moment.

  6. It would be Wales paying and Cardiff benefitting, yet again. My priority is getting out of the bloody Commonwealth not worrying about where to hold the tiddlywinks and all the other nonsense.