Why Yorkshire and the North should ride in and save the 2026 Commonwealth Games - Nick Westby
The fall of the Empire games is almost upon us and there is no one riding to the rescue.
Nearly four months have passed since the Australian province of Victoria pulled out of hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games due to being massively over budget.
A replacement has not yet been found.
Suggestions from Australia are that the Gold Coast – hosts in 2018 – could step in again and turn a profit, or that the Games are postponed a year to find a suitable replacement.
The 2030 Commonwealth Games are also without a host after Canada's Alberta province withdrew its support for a bid last month.
It leaves the future of what for many an athlete has been a key part of their careers in major doubt.
Unless someone, somewhere steps forward.
Which begs the question of Yorkshire’s national newspaper, a title that serves the biggest county in England that trumpeted the region when it hosted a Tour de France Grand Depart, a cycling world championship, snooker’s world championship every year and many others, could it be us who steps forward?
To decide, we need to break it down into two key questions: 1) could we? And 2) would we want to?
First off, yes Yorkshire could, but we would need help.
A rescue bid for 2026 would require the whole of the North of England.
Where HS2 failed to unite the northern powerhouse, a Commonwealth Games could ignite it.
Could the great cities of the north – Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle – combine to host two weeks of sport?
Here in Yorkshire we have the infrastructure already in place barring a major athletics stadium.
For 75 per cent of the sports there is a ready-made facility in Yorkshire.
Swimming and diving – Ponds Forge in Sheffield.
Water polo – John Charles Aquatics Centre in Leeds.
Road cycling – er, hello, former hosts of the Tour de France and a UCI Road World Championships.
Mountain biking – Dalby Forest which is good enough to host World Cup events.
Triathlon – use the same route through Leeds that the World Series took over the last decade.
Boxing, weightlifting, judo and gymnastics – either arena in Sheffield and Leeds.
Beach volleyball – they’re usually temporary venues built at iconic sites like horse guard’s parade for London 2012 and under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower for next year’s Olympics, so you could drop that down anywhere. Personally I’d make them play on Filey beach.
Cricket – a ready-made international venue at Headingley.
Rugby Sevens - let’s head east and play it all at the MKM Stadium in Hull.
Crown green bowls and hockey are tricky, and Yorkshire would need to lean on its network of universities, as Birmingham did in 2022 for hockey.
Beyond that, we need to head out of Yorkshire for the remaining sports and the use of existing facilities.
To Manchester for track cycling at the velodrome, squash at the National Squash Centre.
Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena could host the netball having staged that sport’s World Cup in 2019 and for the showpiece athletics, if we are continuing the theme of using existing venues, Gateshead Stadium outside Newcastle, but that would need upgrading.
So with a lick of paint, a bit of cosmetics and some joined-up, resourceful thinking, the North of England has all the venues already in place.
No need for a costly athletes village either – with an event spread across six cities.
Which brings us on to the next question – would we want to?
Victoria would certainly warn us off it after their proposed budget spiralled to $7billion.
Other regions or cities that have begun exploring the feasibility of hosting either of the next two Commonwealth Games have withdrawn their intentions – Kuala Lumpur, Cardiff, Calgary, Edmonton and Adelaide among them – all because they were concerned about costs.
But each of those required new venues. The North of England, as suggested, wouldn’t.
What about legacy – the major games buzzword?
Look at the regeneration that is happening in Attercliffe in Sheffield and tell me there is no legacy to the London Olympics.
Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park is built up of sports venues, educational institutions and industry-leading health and wellbeing centres, all of which is right next to the English Institute of Sport, Sheffield Arena and iceSheffield.
Attercliffe Road could host a Youth Olympics all on its own.
The cost is still going to be in the hundreds of millions - but spread across six cities, does that make it more palatable?
You also need the will of the people. Folk in Sheffield still grumble about their council taxes going up as a result of the city hosting the World Student Games in 1991.
Most would have thought the same of the Tour de France’s visit to Yorkshire back in 2014. What’s the point? Then five million turned up on the roadside and millions went into the economy.
There are upsides to hosting these grand events; a boost to the economy, unmatched advertising as a tourist destination, the enormous civic pride it fosters.
So go on Yorkshire and the North of England, come together, flex your muscles and rescue the Commonwealth Games.