Let me start by reminding you, Gentle Reader, that I dislike the current name for what originated as the British Empire Games. I do not think there was any good reason to change the name to Commonwealth Games, and I would be much more enthused about the whole show if it were still called the Empire Games.
British Imperialist (and yes, you can think it strange that an Italo-Australian is so anglomorphic as to be so enthused about the British Empire, but that’s me) tirade aside, let’s move on to the current issue.
Yesterday news broke that the Commonwealth Games Federation has approached Melbourne to bid for the right to host the 2026 Commonwealth Games. Apparently no cities elsewhere in the Commonwealth have indicated any interest in hosting it.
Melbourne is the obvious choice to host the Commonwealth Games, and in fact any other major sporting event, including the Soccer World Cup (God Forbid!) and the Olympic Games.
After all, we are the sporting capital of the world, hosting major events like one of those F1 GPs, one of the four tennis Grand Slams, the AFL Grand Final (except in Covid, and it still is the largest crowd for any domestic sporting final in the world), the Boxing Day Test, the 1956 Olympics, and the 2006 Commonwealth Games (yawn!).
No other city in the world loves its sport as much as Melbourne, and has as many world class venues already built to host major sporting events.
And therein lies the problem. The main excuse to host a major event like the Commonwealth Games is to have sufficient lead time to knock down some tired older venues and to replace them with shiny new venues with larger capacity, like what Brisbane is going to do to the Gabba for the 2032 Olympics.
The MCG (hallowed birthplace of Test Cricket and cradle of Australian Rules Football) is not sufficiently tired and old as to warrant a demolition and rebuild just yet. The Northern Stand (ie my name for the stand which replaced the Members, Ponsford and Olympic Stands and which wraps around half the ground) was only built in time for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. The Great Southern Stand, opened in 1991, replaced another stand which was built in the 1930s. Neither stand is particularly old.
I would dearly love to see a uniform wrap around stadium at the MCG in my lifetime. And I would like to see it much bigger, with a 120,000 seat capacity so that more members of AFL clubs could get tickets to see their teams when they play in the AFL Grand Final, or so that we can host a big enough crowd to greet Dictator Kim if he ever visits Australia (North Korea has some huge stadia for that sole purpose).
But I am realistic. Building such a stadium would be really expensive, and for the time being, having two large stands which each cover half the ground is almost as good. I do not see that we could justify bulldozing the current MCG until at least 2036, when the newest of the grand stands is 30 years old and the Great Southern Stand is 45.
The only real building project that would need to be done for the Commonwealth Games is to build an Athletes’ Village. We have done this twice in Melbourne’s history – for the 1956 Olympics and for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Olympic Village is now a very feral suburb in Heidelberg West – one of the worst places in Melbourne to live (and remember that I am a Footscray boy!). I am not sure about the 2006 village on the southern edge of Travancore, except that I hope that we learned our mistakes from 1956.
But the whole risk of creating a village for several thousand athletes and then having that village become a festering social problem of a suburb for generations to come is a serious one.
For that reason, and in the absence of any legitimate excuse to rebuild the MCG, I am inclined to oppose the Commonwealth Games coming to Melbourne. The only solution I can see is for our Dictator Dan to sequester or confiscate several Docklands apartment towers under eminent domain and make those into the Athletes Village. No one will complain as no one lives there anyway.