Certain members of a Hamilton City Council committee made abundantly clear their opposition to the pivot from a bid for the 2030 Commonwealth Games to the 2026 edition of the event during a key meeting last week.
Hamilton was the red-hot favourite to land the hosting rights for the 2030 Commonwealth Games to mark the centenary of the inaugural event, then called the British Empire Games.
The project for 2030 had already secured vital City Council backing, public sentiment in the region was generally positive and even the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) seemed to be in favour.
Yet, despite all the required support for an emotional and romantic proposal being in place, the CGF encouraged – some might say pressured – Hamilton into switching tack and going for 2026 instead following Adelaide's surprise withdrawal from the race, with a promise of "exclusive" backing for the Canadian city's effort.
Now, Hamilton's bid team are fighting for the same City Council backing the 2030 project already had.
Judging by comments during the City Council's General Issues Committee (GIC) meeting last Monday (August 10), the battle will be far from easy.
Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he was "still very much married to 2030", while councillor Tom Jackson was unequivocal in his condemnation of the CGF-induced pivot, which he called "scandalous".
As well as the preference for 2030, concerns have been raised over whether it is appropriate to spend considerable amounts of money on a multi-sport Games during a pandemic. Hamilton staging the 2026 Commonwealth Games is expected to cost at least CAD$1 billion (£573 million/$747 million/€634 million).
Australia and India have also expressed interest in 2026. With that in mind, why the sudden need for Hamilton to go against its wishes by staging the event much earlier than it had originally planned?
With other candidates in the running for 2026, and the support for the latter event safely in the bag, outsiders to the world of mega sports events would be reasonable in viewing the CGF's decision to persuade Hamilton to bring its hosting plans forward by four years as illogical.
Unsurprisingly, the CGF's effusive and eloquent chief executive, David Grevemberg, thinks differently.
Grevemberg believes a 2026 Commonwealth Games in Hamilton will provide economic and social stimulus to Hamilton and the province of Ontario to help repair the damage done by the coronavirus pandemic.
"The world has changed dramatically since they were looking at 2030," Grevemberg told insidethegames.
"From my understanding of the situation, there is an acceleration of need and demand for some of the issues they were identifying to work on for 2030.
"That's the reason why we felt 2026 would be an opportune time because of the hit economically and socially COVID-19 has taken on this region.
"The timing isn't just picked out of the air, it really is responding to an urgent and dire need within the region. There is an immediate need, right now, for stimulus, for recovery and the acceleration of certain regeneration projects.
"You are looking at dire needs around recovery and regeneration. Social housing, for example, is needed now.
"If not now, then when? If not this [Hamilton 2026] then what? If not us then who?"
Grevemberg, the CGF and the Hamilton 2026 Commonwealth Games Bid Corporation, the privately backed company trying to organise the bid, appear to have struggled to sufficiently get that message across and convince those in the 2030 corner that 2026 is a better fit.
"I think we need to understand why 2030 is some people's preferred option," Grevemberg added.
"Is it because of the 100 years, or is it because some of the social, economic and environmental elements will be needed more then than they are now, and the Games is going to address that?
"We need to understand better the comparative analysis between the two. What are the pros and cons of 2030 versus 2026, based on current realities?
"What are we able to achieve by 2030 but not by 2026? That is the real question mark."
The recent discussions surrounding the Hamilton project have led some to question whether the CGF could be left without a host for the next Commonwealth Games after Birmingham 2022.
The prospect of that eventuality would become increasingly likely if the City Council vote against giving its support in principle for Hamilton 2026 at a meeting scheduled for next month.
Grevemberg claimed, however, that the CGF had not made life hard for itself by throwing all of its resources behind Hamilton as part of the dedicated support it has provided to Commonwealth Sport Canada on a bid for the Games for over a year, and cited how the CGF has other options on the table following revived interest in Australia – which he said involves more than one city – and positive talks with officials in India as reasons why the organisation was not concerned. Yet.
"I don't think we have backed ourselves into a corner – we are engaging our place of origin at a time of need and we are doing it with the right intentions," Grevemberg said in response to those who have criticised the CGF pressuring Hamilton into an earlier bid.
"But we also have others that are interested and we continue to engage with them.
"The interest [from Australia and India] isn't speculative. This is genuine interest in a future Games, which includes 2026, that has been levied.
"Our focus has been heavily with Hamilton and that is what we have been really working towards. But we are having conversations with a number of prospective hosts and we will continue to do that."
The CGF will be forced to accelerate those discussions if the Hamilton project falls by the wayside.
The next milestone for Hamilton 2026 is the September 9 meeting of the GIC, which should pave the way for an exact timeline on the City Council vote.
#OnThisDay in 1930, Bobby Robinson brought the first Commonwealth Games to Hamilton 🇨🇦— Commonwealth Games Federation (@thecgf) August 16, 2020
Keep your eyes on our channels as we celebrate how the Games became a movement 💥#90yearsofCWG pic.twitter.com/vT9Lds2ZpH
The CGF has also given the bid team until the end of the month to secure the required Government support, or it has said it will end its "exclusive" support of a candidature for the 2026 Games from Hamilton.
Grevemberg suggested, however, that this deadline was flexible. "The City Council needs to make a decision on how much it wants to engage in the process of defining what a budget could look like, and what opportunities could exist with a 2026 Games and ultimately if it is the right time and place for that," he said.
"In doing that, if they are able to establish a more fitting time-frame, let's have that conversation.
"If they come back and say we need more time to work on this, we need to take that when it comes.
"If progress is made by the end of September, then let's take a look at what progress has been made.
"We have given a year of dedicated support to support their ambitions to host the Games – we need to understand by September where this is going. That is where we are at.
"The flexibility will be determined on what we are being asked to be flexible on. They really need to come together and tell us what they need and what they want."
The CGF has made its intentions clear, but it remains to be seen whether its Hamilton 2026 gamble will pay off.