Liam Morgan

Cooperation is not a word you would usually associate with cities bidding for major sports events.

Bid processes are, by definition, competitions. Well, most of the time anyway.

Cities who are desperate on hosting a global sporting extravaganza will often do anything in their power to achieve their ultimate goal.

There is no better example of this than the conduct shown by the candidate cities for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups, simultaneously awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively in the notorious December 2010 vote.

Executive Committee members gave them all sorts of demands, ranging from asking for knighthoods to playing friendly matches in their native country so they could take the entire 100 per cent share of television rights money. Illicit requests, yes, but what is far worse is that the bids were willing to meet them.

Bidding processes can often be tense, bitter affairs, which is why some feel the need to tow the line with regard to ethics and morality.

It was therefore particularly enlightening to speak to three of the Commonwealth Games Associations (CGAs) whose cities are interested in replacing Durban as hosts of the 2022 event as they all gave across a message which could not have been more opposite.

Durban being stripped of the 2022 Games has seen potential candidates swap conflict for camaraderie and underhanded tactics for unity in order to protect the future of the Commonwealth Games Federation’s (CGF) flagship event.

“For the greater good,” as the preferred mantra of the residents of fictional village Sandford in the British comedy film Hot Fuzz went.

FIFA's scandal has revealed the extent cities bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups went in their pursuit of the hosting rights ©Getty Images
FIFA's scandal has revealed the extent cities bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups went in their pursuit of the hosting rights ©Getty Images

Collaboration and cooperation were words frequently uttered by high-ranking officials in the CGAs in England, Australia and Canada – Ian Metcalfe, Craig Phillips and Rick Powers respectively - when I sat down with them to chat all things 2022 during the Commonwealth Youth Games in The Bahamas last week.

“We all want to win this on our own merits rather than kick lumps out of anyone else,” as Metcalfe, the chairman of Commonwealth Games England (CGE) so eloquently put it.

His chief executive, Paul Blanchard, agreed. “Because we are in unchartered territory, if we had gone the whole seven years there might have been more overt competition,” he said.

“Given what happened with Durban, we are all in this together.”

Amity is all well and good, but there is still a contest to be won.

Admittedly for the media, a public slanging match between bid cities often provides editorial gold and adds another layer to an already fascinating contest.

But the intrigue in the 2022 Commonwealth Games process stems from how it differs to the norm.

The CGF’s decision to remove Durban as hosts in March – one which they got spot on – has forced a rethink. Usually, Games are awarded seven years before they are due to start, but we will not know where the 2022 event is heading until four-and-a-half years out.

The CGF are, in a sense, guilty of making it up as they go along. They have still not revealed exactly when a 2022 host will be named - although this is widely expected to come in November- which has created a sense of confusion.

However, the CGAs understand. The “unchartered territory” as outlined by Blanchard is largely no fault of the CGF, who have been plunged into a situation they would have been keen to avoid, and it is accepted the global body are doing the best they can with what they have been left with.

For the CGAs who are in the 2022 race – uncertainty still surrounds Malaysia’s intentions, with a bid from Kuala Lumpur now seeming more likely for 2026 – September 30 is the deadline for submissions and at this stage, it is difficult to look past the credentials of England.

With two cities, Birmingham and Liverpool, both keen on bringing the Games back to the country for the first time in 20 years, they appear to be the favourites. If I was a betting man, I would be lumping on the CGF choosing England.

For the record, that is a totally unbiased opinion. If roles were reversed and England were hosting the 2018 Games and Australia had put forward candidates of a similar standard, I would say the same thing about their chances.

While the merits of Birmingham and Liverpool’s bids are there for all to see, England being the front runner can also be put down to logic.

Toronto, which hosted the 2015 Pan American Games, would perhaps have been a better option for Canada for 2022 ©Getty Images
Toronto, which hosted the 2015 Pan American Games, would perhaps have been a better option for Canada for 2022 ©Getty Images

Phillips all but ruled Australia out, providing the CGF find “the right partner” and are not “taken advantage of” by whoever lands the 2022 hosting rights. He told me they considered themselves as merely a contingency option for the CGF and would only substantiate their interest with a formal bid as a “last resort” if an alternative city cannot be found.

The Commonwealth Games Australia chief executive admitted two consecutive editions of the Games in his native country was “not what the Movement wants” and would not be the right fit for the CGF going forward, but insisted they would be willing to step in if necessary.

Although coming across as slightly Messianic in effectively saying they could be the saviour for the CGF if all else fails, Phillips recognises 2022 in Australia is not likely to happen. “The Games will always have a home in Australia but of course we would like to see the Games celebrated somewhere else in the world,” he said.

That somewhere else could be Victoria in Canada, who have emerged as England’s main challenger. 

Commonwealth Games Canada President Powers believes it is their turn to host their event after withdrawals of Edmonton and Halifax, who pulled out of the race to stage the 2022 and 2014 editions respectively.

Describing Victoria, located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island off Canada's Pacific coast, as one of the jewels of the country, Powers was full of confidence of their chances for 2022.

He also promised a “scaled-down” version of the Games and said they would present themselves as a demonstration of how smaller cities can host major events. Size, Powers acknowledged, was one of the main limitations of Victoria’s bid. 

At a time of continued quandary, will the CGF be willing to take what could be perceived as the risky option by heading to the small Canadian island?

Australia will only bid for the 2022 Commonwealth Games as a last resort option ©Getty Images
Australia will only bid for the 2022 Commonwealth Games as a last resort option ©Getty Images

Toronto, which hosted the 2015 Pan American Games, would perhaps have been a more suitable option for Canada. Toronto, however, fell victim to a lack of political support earlier this year and opted out of the 2022 process before it had even started.

Politics will also be key for Victoria, although potential fears were allayed somewhat earlier this month when a Governmental impasse came to an end. Support from the political leaders in the British Columbian Provincial Government will now follow, according to Powers.

Canada’s best opportunity of appears to be 2030, in order to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the first Commonwealth Games, held in Hamilton. Also, 2026 may be too much of a stretch for the Canadian Government due to a possible bid for the Winter Olympics and Paralympics from Calgary and the country almost certainly co-hosting the FIFA World Cup with the United States and Mexico in the same year.

With all of that in mind, and coupled with doubt hanging over Kuala Lumpur like an ominous cloud, you might think England have got this sewn up. But it is not all plain sailing in Birmingham and Liverpool.

The latter’s main obstacle is their plans to install and remove an athletics track at Everton Football Club’s new stadium, due to be the focal point of their plans, in less than three-and-a-half months.

Liverpool 2022, while refusing to reveal more information as to how this will be done, have consistently dismissed concerns over its plausibility. They are also due to unveil further details next month, which the Bid Committee will hope addresses issues that have been raised in the past month or so and is set to feature an updated timescale.

Blanchard has highlighted this as a hurdle which must be overcome before they make a decision as to whether Birmingham or Liverpool is put forward. The organisation will be keeping a close eye as plans are formulated in the coming weeks.

The CGF are hoping to protect the future of their flagship event in a similar way to the IOC ©Getty Images
The CGF are hoping to protect the future of their flagship event in a similar way to the IOC ©Getty Images

Arguably Birmingham’s biggest challenge is the lack of a velodrome, often a sticking point for any major event host. While Liverpool will be counting on the use of a facility in Manchester, Birmingham will have to build one from scratch, and risk is not a currency the CGF will want to deal in.

Much like the International Olympic Committee’s rationale behind the 2024/2028 double award, the CGF are hoping to ensure they get two consecutive editions of the Games where success is all-but guaranteed. This is a given in the Gold Coast next year, although they may struggle to capture the imagination of the people in the same way Glasgow did in 2014, and England could surely follow suit.

The CGE are remaining coy on their chances despite logic and common sense suggesting they may be named as Durban's replacement later this year.

"I think it is optimism but there is absolutely no arrogance about it and we know we are in a tough international contest," said Blanchard.

Let battle commence, then. Well, sort of.