Let The Commonwealth Games Begin, But At What Cost?

How much is Malaysia willing to pay to host the Commonwealth Games?

The hosting of the Commonwealth Games 2026 is up for grabs. Australia, or rather the state of Victoria, has pulled out of it, Malaysia was offered to be the host and that has caused a melee of debates between government and former officials and not forgetting netizens (Malaysians) on social media. What is wrong with this picture?

First, why did Victoria accept it and after that, outrightly pull out of it? Daniel Andrews, the state Premier of Victoria in Australia said the cost estimation has blown out and he was not prepared to redirect money from other parts of the government to make up for the shortfall. According to him, the initial budget for the games was $2.6 billion (RM12.23 billion) but now the figure is anywhere between $6 (RM28.21) billion and 7 (RM32.92) billion. Commonwealth Games Australia chief executive Craig Phillips has said that he sees the stated cost overrun as a “gross exaggeration”.
However, Craig Philips is not supported by budgetary views of other states like New South Wales whose capital Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympic games. The state has also said that they would not step in citing budgetary pressures.

Sporting Culture

This is Australia, and the state of Victoria, with all their sporting culture and trappings of a modern city. Melbourne, the capital of Victoria was the host to the 1956 Summer Olympics and they have declined, with their state-of-the-art sporting facilities and all, they have declined!

Malaysia is considering it! So with the ringgit falling, prices of goods increasing like the heights of marquee skyscrapers in Malaysia, low salaries, crumbling sporting venues, etc, well Malaysians do not need to be an economist to know how good or bad the economy is. We are not in a very good place now and that is putting it mildly. We have graduates going down south to Singapore to work as garbage collectors, unemployment is still a plague and with an aging population and jigsaw puzzle management of the EPF pension fund by the government, can we manage to fund the games? Should we even consider it? Even ex-sporting greats are against this event, from Olympian Karu Selvaratnam to ex-national footballer Santokh Singh.

Commonwealth Games Federation

The Commonwealth Games Federation has offered 100 million pounds (RM600 million) to Malaysia to take up the games, this is a mineral water drop into the ocean of funding needed and the budget requirements from the state of Victoria gives a view of how much we need to get the games going. Even if we take a half of the estimation of the Victoria budget, which I highly doubt it will be, it is still a massive sum, we are still looking at a whopping $4 to 5 billion. This does not include the cost of what will happen after the games is over, like maintenance cost of facilities built if any and other debts incurred.

If Malaysia is banking on tourism, this is so overrated and it is a one-off and we should not bank on this. Granted that tourism success has been seen with marquee events like the World Cup, the Commonwealth Games is a different ball game. These are games that essentially is a celebration of British colonialism and countries that are not exactly top tier in economic status except countries like United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. So the tourism input is going to be unpredictable and adding the previous countries mentioned, they already are part of the tourist arrivals in Malaysia one way or another.

So is tourism a guarantee? A good example would be New South Wales (NSW) again, in this case in the gargantuan event like the Olympics in 2000. In 1997 NSW government made a claim that in-bound tourism and outbound tourism would reach a peak of 340, 000 in 2001 before gradually returning over several years to non-Olympics trend.

Marquee Event

However, a study in 2007 by the Centre of Policy Studies at Monash University found that from 1997 to 2005, only in the financial year 2000-01 did foreign demand for tourism in NSW grew faster than in the rest of Australia, this with the marquee event of the Olympics. Maybe this is the reason the NSW government have decided to stay away now from the Commonwealth games instead of stepping in.

There is not enough time to upgrade venues, find sponsors and even set-up infrastructure, any host would at least need four years to be ready, these were some of the concerns stated by former Youth & Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin. In Malaysia the spilt between former government officials and current office bearers on this topic is interesting, Norza Zakaria, President of the Commonwealth Games Association of Malaysia, called it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She even stated that it would put Malaysia back onto the world sporting map. Were we even in one?

Which map is this? Shouldn’t we have done this from the 1998 games? The money estimated to be spent leaves many I am sure salivating especially those in development and the coaching fraternity, think what we could do with even a quarter of this budget if this is spent on grassroots development of sports?

The Bukit Jalil stadium was in a mess for years with the pitch in terrible condition, so terrible it was unfit for play. Everybody raved and ranted in anger and for months, the stadium “went on tour in various news portals” for all the wrong reasons with pix of the pitch being shown. Finally in late 2023, Tunku Mahkota of Johor, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim made a contribution to repair the pitch, the sum was not disclosed. So this is how far we have come from 1998 Commonwealth Games, so do we still want to consider it? Do we need a hand-out from the Prince of Malaysia and not something that came out of the budget of the Youth & Sports Ministry, or the government, and now we are considering to spend billions to host the Commonwealth Games? This is the stadium that was used for the 1998 Commonwealth Games, this is our world sporting map?

Shah Alam Stadium

Let us not forget the Shah Alam stadium, the go-to stadium for the people of Selangor or at least that is what we thought. It was not maintained for years, it was literally falling apart and now finally the Selangor government has decided to tear it down and redevelop it, but this will be done in 2025. This clearly shows either it is not a priority or we don’t have the money for it. Or both. Are we a sporting nation?

This however goes beyond whether we are a sporting nation or not, it is about the cost of holding an event and spending billions, we are at this stage, economy wise are not ready for it, if the government makes a decision this coming week and say yes to it, where is the money coming from?

We should be focusing on one off events like concerts which bring a bang for the buck. The entertainment industry pre-Covid brought in 6.8 percent of Malaysia’s GDP. If one day concerts or two days of concerts can bring in this much, we should try our best for this. It is way less cost wise on spending big amounts for facilities for sporting events.

However, on the motor sports scene, we do have great facilities that can be utilised further. The Sepang Motor sports circuit is ready always and is being utilised, despite this, the organizers have yet to receive a response from the Prime Minister. Thailand might be ready to snap this up, this would be an easier decision to make.

Formula E-Prix Grand Finale

Sports Tech Holdings CEO Wan Agyl Wan Hassan, said plans to host next year’s Formula E-Prix Grand Finale in Kuala Lumpur were “indeed at an advanced stage”, after conditional rights were secured from Formula E earlier this year, but a response from the Malaysian government is yet to come. We even missed out on Taylor Swift concert after so-called contracts or agreements bungled, or rather handover issues from previous government to the present. Singapore’s economy got a RM 1.7 ($361 million) billion boost to the economy.

This is not just about decisions on sports and entertainment, this is about the health of the government in making viable decisions and boosting the confidence of the nation. If we do take the decision on Commonwealth Games, from where is the money going to come from? Why the delay on making a decision on Formula E when that should be so easy to decide? Is it because if they decide to go for Commonwealth Games, the decision for other sports and entertainment will go out of the window?

The nation awaits, but whatever the decision, we should be scared if the government is even thinking to spend billions on a sporting event that nobody wants at this moment. – NMH

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