Victoria, Australia, Backs Out as Host of 2026 Commonwealth Games

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The Australian state of Victoria on Tuesday canceled its hosting of the 2026 Commonwealth Games because of ballooning costs, leading officials and observers to again question the relevance of an event first held in 1930 as the British Empire Games.

“I’ve made a lot of difficult calls, a lot of very difficult decisions in this job,” Daniel Andrews, Victoria’s premier, told reporters in Melbourne. “This is not one of them.”

“I will not take money out of hospitals and schools in order to fund an event that is three times the cost estimated and budgeted for last year,” Mr. Andrews added, referring to the original projection of costs of 2.6 billion Australian dollars, about $1.8 billion. Victoria will most likely have to pay a fee to break its contract, he said.

The Commonwealth Games, a multisports competition similar to the Olympic Games though not as wide-ranging, began as an event to foster unity among the “pink countries,” as nations that were or had been British colonies were sometimes called, a nickname that came about because of the color often used for them on world maps.

But the competition has faded in importance as global sports have become more easily accessible round the clock online and via pay-per-view television. At the same time, the tournament’s second-tier status — not as important to athletes as the Olympics or world championships — has increasingly led some top competitors, including the sprinter Usain Bolt, to bypass it altogether.

Anthony Sharwood, a veteran Australian journalist and commentator, said the games had become “completely irrelevant.”

“There are so many other events now — the global sporting map has changed,” he noted.

Mr. Andrews’s announcement, which came with little forewarning, was a disappointment to many Australian sports communities, as well as to those working on the competition’s organization.

“It’s a comprehensive letdown for the athletes, the excited host communities, First Nations Australians who were at the heart of the Games, and the millions of fans that would have embraced a sixth home Games in Australia,” Craig Phillips, the chief executive officer of Commonwealth Games Australia, said in a statement.

In April 2022, Mr. Andrews had promised that the 12-day competition would offer significant opportunities to Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Gippsland and Shepparton, five areas in Victoria that were to host events.

“We’re very, very confident that this will deliver jobs,” Mr. Andrews said from a stadium in Ballarat at the time. “It’ll deliver better facilities, better housing, and it’ll be a showcase to the world.”

Held every four years, the Commonwealth Games have been canceled only twice before — in 1942 and 1946, because of World War II.

But the competition’s diminishing significance has become increasingly clear. In 2015, the South African city of Durban was the only city to bid to host the 2022 edition. Two years later, it bowed out, citing the substantial sums required to mount the event. The competition was instead held in Birmingham, England, which stepped in as a substitute.

With only three years left before the 2026 edition, it was unclear whether officials would be able to find an alternative host again. Other Australian states, including Western Australia and South Australia, quickly declared themselves out of the running.

“The Commonwealth Games aren’t what they used to be, and, as a result of that, they don’t provide the return on investment,” Roger Cook, the premier of Western Australia, told journalists on Tuesday. He described the event as “a highly expensive sugar hit.”

As the relationship between Commonwealth nations has become less important with the demise of the British Empire, the outsize costs of hosting the competition have been increasingly difficult for countries to justify.

Referring to the status of the Commonwealth, Julianne Schultz, a university professor and author of “The Idea of Australia,” said, “I just don’t think it touches most people’s lives in any meaningful way.”

“The Commonwealth Games were a clever way of perpetuating the idea of a Commonwealth when it was becoming less relevant,” added Professor Schultz, who works at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.

Mr. Sharwood, the journalist, said that, for generations of Australians, the Commonwealth Games had “seemed like the biggest thing in the world — almost indistinguishable from the Olympics.”

“It was a well-constructed narrative to make us think that,” he added. “But that narrative is dead.”

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