David Grevemberg | Delivering change for the Commonwealth Games

Back on track after acclaimed consecutive editions in Glasgow and Gold Coast, SportBusiness asks Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive David Grevemberg to look to Birmingham 2022 and beyond.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 07: The Q1 hotel at Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast on April 7, 2017 in Gold Coast, Australia. The 2018 Commonwealth Games will be held on the Gold Coast from April 4th to 15th next year. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The Commonwealth Games has had a somewhat tumultuous time over the past decade, from the chaos and corruption of Delhi 2010 to the uncompetitive bidding contests between just two candidate cities for each of the 2014 and 2018 editions.

Further difficulties then emerged when Durban was initially awarded the 2022 event, only for the Commonwealth Games Federation to grow weary of repeated broken pledges and strip the hosting rights from the South African city.

However, less than a year before the bidding process for the 2026 edition concludes with a vote at the CGF General Assembly, the Commonwealth Games would appear to be firmly back on track.

With the movement able to reflect positively on Glasgow 2014 and Gold Coast 2018, Birmingham has stepped in to replace Durban. Indeed, such has been the interest in future editions of the Games, the CGF is considering the possibility of awarding hosting rights for the 2030 and 2034 editions at the same meeting in 2020.

“At this point in time it depends on what comes out of a fluid process, but the 2026 vote is set for September 2019 and then the vote for the 2030 edition will take place in 2020 – and that may or may not include the 2034 event as well,” CGF chief executive David Grevemberg tells SportBusiness.

“The value that comes in adopting that approach is that it provides a certainty in trajectory and an ability to nurture long-term multi-games opportunities so that there is a much broader movement-wide proposition.

“There are three types of markets – regenerative, sustained and emerging. A good, long stretch provides enormous opportunities for building smart capacities. We’ve seen before with various events that a city can’t do too much, too quickly.

“We’ve had conversations with six countries [over bidding for the Games]. We’re in that initial dialogue stage, but that’s indicative of the level of interest generated by the successes of the Gold Coast and Glasgow Games.”

Golden Games
Reflecting on a “Games of firsts”, Grevemberg is confident that the near-seamless experience in Gold Coast has raised the profile of the Games.

The Carrara Stadium, which hosted the athletics competitions during the event, was packed to its capacity of 35,000 for most of the sessions, illustrating the local appeal for the event, which featured 71 Commonwealth teams spread across 275 competitions in 19 sports.

“This was the first Games that was under the new vision of the CGF,” Grevemberg says. “It was the first time we set a true athlete quota so that the size and complexity of the Games could be managed effectively. We were also able to push inclusivity and equality, with an equal number of medals for men and women, plus the largest number of para-sport events – 38 across eight sports.”

The feel-good factor surrounding Glasgow 2014 and Gold Coast 2018 has provided the perfect foundation for a federation that prides itself on leaving a lasting and positive footprint in host cities and countries.

Sixteen years on, the transformative long-term impact of the 2002 Games on Manchester’s infrastructure and communities is still regarded as a benchmark. However, there are signs that the previous two editions of the Games are also likely to experience a Commonwealth Games glow for years to come.

The 2014 Games gave Glasgow a taste of major sporting events that has shown no sign of fading. The city hosted the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships and the International Paralympic Committee Swimming World Championships in 2015, the BWF World Badminton Championships in 2017 and then the aquatics, cycling, golf, gymnastics, rowing and triathlon competitions of the 2018 European Championships.

Next year, the European Athletics Indoor Championships and the European Short Course Swimming Championships are on the schedule, while in 2020 the Scottish city will host the Men’s World Curling Championship and four matches during the Uefa Euro 2020 football tournament.

Gold Coast, meanwhile, also has lofty ambitions, having lined up the 2019 edition of SportAccord, which will welcome sport’s top decision-makers from around the world for a week of meetings and networking. The city is also exploring a bid for a future edition of the IAAF World Championships.

However, Grevemberg insists that sport is just one of the legacies that the CGF is attempting to drive. Before he became the federation’s chief executive in November 2014, Grevemberg spearheaded a deal with Unicef as chief executive of Glasgow 2014 that enabled the children’s charity to raise £6.5m, benefiting 11.7 million across 53 countries in the Commonwealth.

A year ago, the CGF adopted its first-ever human rights policy before a Reconciliation Action Plan, co-created and supported by an indigenous working group and the local Yugambeh Elders Advisory Group, was established for the Gold Coast Games.

(Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Duty of care
Grevemberg says that the CGF – which was outspoken in its support of the campaign to allow same-sex marriage in Australia ahead of the law changing nearly a year ago – has been a “very prominent contributor to conversations” about legislative discrimination of LGBTQ+ communities across certain Commonwealth states.

“Huge strides are being made,” he adds. “We are very careful not to politicise sport, but humanise it. We have very clear rules when it comes to discrimination and human rights and it is part of our due diligence process when we are selecting hosts.

“For example, when we hosted the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa in 2015 and the Bahamas in 2017, we ensured that our safeguarding standards were adopted. In Samoa, new legislation was introduced, while the Bahamas went from a standing start to having 76 safeguarding personnel trained and mobilised to support the Youth Games and other future events.”

Aside from these causes, the CGF is well aware that the Commonwealth Games has a reputation to uphold as a supporter and partner of the host city in an industry in which ‘white elephants’ have been all too common across major sports events, with public budgets blown on vanity projects that do not stand the test of time.

“We have a duty of care to contribute towards building peaceful, sustainable and prosperous communities worldwide,” he says. “We work alongside host cities to help them to achieve their goals. As an example, Gold Coast has been trying to amplify its status as cultural hub and the city has an ambition to double the number of foreign students at its universities.”

In this spirit, Griffith University, which signed up as an official partner of the Games, formed the Commonwealth Sport University Network in conjunction with the CGF and the Universities of Ottawa and Toronto in Canada, the University of Johannesburg in South Africa and Strathclyde University in Scotland.

Griffith University, Gold Coast University Hospital and the City of Gold Coast also teamed up to transform the GC2018 Village into a residential and business hub in the centre of the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct. The Village served as the home to 4,426 athletes during the Games – down from 4,947 four years earlier in Glasgow. This deliberate move by the CGF helped the local organisers to avoid any last-minute surprises and strains on resources.

“Capping the number of athletes at the Games ensured the Village could be modelled attractively, with lots of green space and buildings that were mostly up to three storeys high, all in a central area for transport. It was applauded as one of the best Villages the athletes had experienced,” Grevemberg says.

“We wanted to avoid the scenario with Glasgow, when just a month-and-a-half before the event, an additional 750 athletes signed up to participate.

“The city has been working towards establishing long-term sustainable developments and the Games helped to bring forward certain projects. For example, three large film studios were built ahead of the Games, with these used for some indoor sports, but with a long-term vision in place.

“All of this contributes towards reducing the overall cost of staging the event. As we look at prospective hosts, we always look at ways of achieving greater affordability with a plug-in approach. If new builds happen, they need to be for the right reasons.

“The Games should be as affordable as possible. The trajectory with some events has been to make everything bigger, but we have to stop that and be leaner and meaner.”

David Grevemberg walks with children participating in activities at the OFC Just Play Festival (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Defining roles
Grevemberg acknowledges that defining responsibilities between the different stakeholders is an important step in the process. “We have a responsibility to use these investments by host cities as a stimulus package for sustainable development,” he says. “That doesn’t happen by accident. With some of the challenges that faced hosts of the Games in the past, they either committed to too much, too quickly, or they were not sure what they were committing themselves to.

“However, ensuring there are cross-governmental structures in place to support the project is vital so the balance of priorities and power can be optimised.”
Grevemberg says that close dialogue with bidders from the early stages of the process is crucial.

“You have to get in early and start working as a partner in the bidding process, looking at long-term feasibility and integrating plans into the candidature file so that the risks can be understood and managed more effectively in the local context,” he says.

“By the nature of our organisation, we are servicing citizens and communities, so we want to make sure there are no white elephants. We establish a core sports programme and an optional sports programme and look at creative ways in which transport can be delivered. It really comes down to getting in on the ground early and working with the host city as a genuine partner.”

Political support
The CGF pulled the plug on Durban’s Commonwealth Games after the South African city failed to fulfil a series of obligations and commitments, including payment instalments on a £10.5m (€11.9m/$13.6m)hosting fee.

“We remain a movement committed to bringing an event to the African continent, but it has to be for the right reasons at the right time,” Grevemberg adds. “We postponed Africa as we were not going to maintain the Games at any cost, but taking that decision after a year-and-a-half of trying to support the process was difficult.”

Stung by the experience, even though Birmingham was the only city to confirm its candidacy to replace Durban by the initial deadline set by the CGF, the federation still raised 170 detailed queries with the UK’s second biggest city before eventually confirming the hosting rights.

“We want to use Birmingham as a catalyst,” Grevemberg says. “We’ve been much more prescriptive in terms of the governance model, as we want it to be very similar to Glasgow and the Gold Coast with the right decision-making authority in place.

“Sharing knowledge of what works and best practice is essential, otherwise it’s like giving your car to someone who’s never driven before and expecting them to bring it back in a better condition. If you’re a responsible owner, you get in the car with them to help them.”

Birmingham has reportedly agreed to pay a hosting fee of £25m. It is anticipated that a further £180m will need to be raised locally, even though the UK government will cover 75 per cent of the total cost of staging the Games.

However, such an outlay also brings significant financial returns.

A Griffith Institute for Tourism and Griffith Business School report, which modelled the economic impacts of the Gold Coast Games, projected a A$2bn (€1.2bn/$1.4bn) increase in Queensland’s gross state product as a result of the event, with the local economy expected to continue to benefit through to 2028.

Return on investment, though, is about more than just the bottom-line figures that can be directly attributable to the event. As the likes of Birmingham’s fellow UK cities Manchester and Glasgow can attest, a successful Games can leave a cultural legacy, as well as sports venues and infrastructure in place to improve the lives of citizens.

“We want cities which can deliver the Games on a technical basis, but also offer a compelling vision for the impact of the event,” Grevemberg concludes.

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