Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games and the challenge of competing interests

2 April 2018

On the eve of the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in Australia (in and around Brisbane in Queensland), it is worth reflecting on the challenge for any major event of balancing the legitimate interests of different stakeholders.

As the Games begin, the focus is inevitably on the host city and country. After years of preparations, the organising committee is about to be tested. The attitude and enthusiasm of the local communities and public authorities will have a considerable impact on the wider perception of the event. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), as the rightsholder, keeps a close eye on proceedings but by now has limited power to intervene. Athletes and teams selected by Commonwealth Games Associations are in the country or shortly to arrive. Selection procedures, accommodation, training facilities and competition schedules are all arranged. Tourists have planned their trips, although there may still be some last-minute tickets to buy. The media audience awaits, ready to watch and read their screens. Sponsor campaigns are underway.

From the perspective of an international observer, the years leading up to the 2018 Commonwealth Games have run more smoothly than is often the case for major, multi-sport events.

The types of issues which have been generating attention often involve decisions relating to the conflicting needs of one group of stakeholders against another.

Concern about gridlock on the roads is a familiar theme for most major sports events. In Brisbane, dedicated lanes are in place for accredited vehicles, which will ease travel for athletes and officials but inevitably cause resentment among the local population. A recent advert by the organisers designed to encourage people to consider different options for getting to work during the Commonwealth Games, such as cycling, offended some.

The Queensland Government and the organising committee have published a Reconciliation Action Plan, which is intended to deliver legacy outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. By delivering the plan, the partners hosting the Games hope to show commitment to tackling sensitive topics of prejudice and discrimination. Nevertheless, protests are expected.

Environmental campaigners often target major events to draw attention to specific causes. In the case of the Gold Coast, an anonymous group has sought to highlight the plight of the wild koala bear population, threatened by urban sprawl. Advocates of mega sporting events cite opportunities for economic development, which tends to be a declared objective of the local and national government in the host country. For those whose priority is the natural environment, infrastructure and venue construction are frequently unwelcome.

There has been a dispute about access for non-rightsholder media due to exclusivity rights claimed by the host broadcaster (in return for a hefty fee). Organisers face a dilemma, seeking to attract much-needed revenue for the broadcast rights but also wanting to maximise media exposure for the event and for the host region.

While it was not an issue for the Gold Coast organisers, a decision by future hosts Birmingham to exclude the sport of shooting from the next edition of the Games in 2022 has caused controversy. The CGF responded by explaining the need for organisers to be able to host an event which is right for them – a principle agreed by the CGF’s members collectively. The decision to give hosts a degree of discretion in selecting the competition programme potentially means that specific sports and countries which perform well in those sports will lose out from time to time. However, there is a case for re-balancing interests in the favour of host cities and countries at a time when multi-sport events are often struggling to attract bids.

Managing such a complex set of stakeholders is a daunting prospect for organisers and rightsholders of major events. As the power dynamic may well be shifting away from rightsholders towards hosts, it would not be surprising to see bidders and hosts becoming more assertive over a period of time.

It is to the credit of the Gold Coast organisers and the CGF that, at the time of writing, many of the inevitable tensions appear to have been managed effectively.

In the end, it seems likely that the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games will succeed by deploying the region’s not-so-secret weapon – vast expanses of beautiful beaches and glorious sunshine.

Posted by Rowland Jack on 02.04.2018 in International, I Trust Sport, Sports Governance

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