Michael Pavitt ©ITG

When unveiling her Brexit plan back in January, Theresa May stressed the need for renewed closeness with Commonwealth countries as Britain heads towards the European Union's exit door.

The Prime Minister referenced, as part of her vision of creating a global Britain, the "unique and proud global relationships" offered by the Commonwealth. She made an assertion that free trade agreements would be pursued with the likes of Australia, India and New Zealand.

Naturally, Mrs May made these statements as she sought to ease the many concerns raised over Brexit, before the Article 50 trigger is officially fired. Fortunately for her, an opportunity has arisen to show Britain's commitment to reinvigorating the Commonwealth.

Durban’s departure as the hosts of the 2022 Commonwealth Games has left the Commonwealth Games Federation looking for a dependable replacement, one which could plan, prepare and pull off the event inside of five years. 

A second successive Games in Australia has been mooted, but the CGF would surely be reluctant to see the event remain in the same country after Gold Coast 2018. Edmonton in Canada, who withdrew from the initial race, continue to muse over potentially hosting and India and Malaysia have tentatively talked of the prospect.

England, though, appears the most keen to stage the event. Birmingham and Liverpool are heading the queue, having already signalled their interest for 2026 before the 2022 vacancy officially arose. Then 2002 hosts Manchester added their hat to the ring, while London would also ensure a Games of a high standard should they press ahead.

With the clear enthusiasm from cities to host and having vowed to strengthen ties with the Commonwealth, it would make perfect sense for the UK Government to actively get behind such a prospect. What better way of showing your commitment to the Commonwealth than by aligning yourself with arguably its biggest brand, when the Games have their first edition after Brexit is finalised. What better signal of your intent to support the Commonwealth than to been seen riding to the rescue of the Games, when they are viewed to be in the midst of a crisis.

Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to have stronger ties with the Commonwealth after Brexit ©Getty Images
Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to have stronger ties with the Commonwealth after Brexit ©Getty Images

The prospect would surely be one for the CGF to relish as well. Having lost the tag of the first African Commonwealth Games, which would have come with Durban 2022, the organisation will potentially have a replacement vision for the Games in five years time.

The Brexit Games. A Games which would signify unity around the Commonwealth and enhance already existing ties.

"We have been in a lot of positive discussions this week, where there has been a lot of positive reinforcement that Brexit may be a great positive opportunity," David Grevemberg, the CGF's chief executive, said earlier this week. 

"To be honest we are focused on ensuring that this Commonwealth family, whatever challenges and opportunities are hitting our world right now, has a clear narrative and lives by its principles of peace and prosperity, as well as human rights. As an agency and event organiser we are looking to ensure those values are upheld. Trade relations are a natural add on."

When I visited Gold Coast during the latest CGF Evaluation Commission assessment in December, city officials were keen to point out areas which they hope will form the centre for business discussions during the duration of next year's Games. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk confirmed a search is set to begin to find a suitable location for a new Commonwealth House earlier this week, with the hope the selected site will host trade and investment discussions between Government Ministers and business leaders.

It is clear that sport forms the largest focus during the Games, but with so many delegations and high ranking officials from nations present, the event offers opportunities outside of the sporting sphere.

The Government could claim the Games would help boost the host city's economy, as it reportedly did in Glasgow ©Getty Images
The Government could claim the Games would help boost the host city's economy, as it reportedly did in Glasgow ©Getty Images

One of Palaszczuk’s predecessors as Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, despite dubbing himself as a retired politician, mused over the Brexit issue and its importance to the Commonwealth. The Gold Coast 2018 chairman admitted to initial doubts over Britain's departure from the EU, but suggested it is now an opportunity that can be grasped.

"In my view, the Commonwealth is more relevant than it was 20 years ago," Beattie said. "After Brexit, the Commonwealth has to form a new relationship and the Commonwealth Games are an integral part of the new Commonwealth. It means free trade agreements between Australia and the UK, as well as others. Africa is now emerging, you are seeing India become a global player in economy. Frankly Brexit is an opportunity."

While it would certainly be a statement of intent to enhance relations with the Commonwealth by welcoming nations to England and having trade talks - although you would hope they would have been well underway by that stage anyway - the Government could claim to be making good on another vow.

Backing a Liverpool or Manchester effort for the Games could be flagged up as an attempt to invest in the so-called Northern Powerhouse. A Birmingham bid could be seen as further fuel towards firing up the Midlands Engine. 

Granted, sporting facilities might not be high on the priority list in many people's minds in those cities. However, as Glasgow 2014 was reportedly responsible for a near £740 million ($918 million/€854 million) boost in the city's economy, the Government could argue any investment would ultimately reap rewards.

There would even be the potential for cities to share the Games, lessening any strain of trying to conduct too many major infrastructure developments. 

Whether it would be one city or multiple, could it be possible to facilitate business links and hubs, encouraging trade and negotiation? What better way to rejuvenate and attract businesses to these places than by showing them off to the Commonwealth, who make up one third of the world’s population.