Hamilton’s bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2026 was dealt a severe blow Tuesday after a spokesperson for the Provincial government said financial support for the Canadian project was unlikely.
“If there is no money and no appetite, let’s stop it,” Member of Provincial Parliament Donna Skelly told reporters according to CBC News.
Her remarks were made after bid organizers cancelled a planned presentation to Hamilton City Council that was to be made Wednesday.
Skelly blamed the Ontario government’s lack of interest in the Commonwealth Games on already confirmed plans to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup when nearby provincial capital Toronto is expected to be a host venue for matches. She claims the negative impact of COVID-19 on the provincial economy leaves little space for both major events in the same summer.
“If it’s 2027, or 2030, fine,” Skelly said.
“But let’s not mislead people or suggest there’s an opportunity to move forward for 2026.
“I want Hamilton to get what it can, trust me,” she said adding “but FIFA is a huge event.”
A spokesperson for Ontario Premier Doug Ford said “we encourage the city and bid group to consider pursuing this opportunity in 2027 or beyond in Hamilton and would entertain those discussions with the parties involved.”
A spokesperson for the CGF said no request has been made to move the Games to 2027 and that the 23rd Commonwealth Games are currently targeted for 2026. The CGF declined to comment on Skelly’s remarks when asked by GamesBids.com.
Bid President PJ Mercanti wouldn’t confirm that FIFA has pressured the Ontario government to focus solely on the World Cup when he spoke on Hamilton radio Wednesday, but he did hint that there have been communications among stakeholders.
“There was a letter that (Commonwealth Games President) Dame Louise Martin had prepared to FIFA’s leader Gianni Infantino, so at the federation level there has been some positive dialog.” he said on the Bill Kelly Show.
“We don’t believe that there necessarily was an ultimatum made to the province so we’re still in the process of fleshing that out and getting a better understanding of what each specific issue is.
“We believe there is a path forward to resolve whatever the issues are with FIFA and we’re hopeful.
“In the coming days and weeks we certainly expect there to be more robust dialog with FIFA directly.”
The province already provided support in principle for the city’s bid for the 2030 Games before organizers pivoted to the 2026 event at the request of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF). The CGF has fallen at least two years behind its planned election date for the 2026 Games and is facing additional delays and risk amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
Hamilton originally targeted the 2030 edition as it will mark the centennial of the birth of the British Empire Games, the predecessor of the Commonwealth Games that were inaugurated in the same city.
Since last year the CGF has been working with Hamilton on an exclusive basis with an intent to organize those Games in Canada. If Hamilton withdraws from the race, the CGF will need to reactivate its bid process quickly.
Officials from Australia’s Adelaide have recently renewed efforts to revive a previously canceled bid for the 2026 Games, and India had been pursuing a 2026 bid before the CGF announced its exclusivity with Canada.
In September CGF Chief David Grevemberg told Hamilton City Councilors “we have also been approached by a number of other potentially interested hosts for future Games as part of our bid development platform.”
The City Council that had already backed a 2030 bid has been split on whether to switch the focus to 2026, but without the province’s support the outcome is clear.
“We have so much on our plate as a municipality,” Councilor Brad Clark said Tuesday.
“If the province of Ontario is not on board, I don’t want to waste any more time, or staff time, assessing financial documents.”
Without provincial support, needed federal funding from Ottawa will also be denied.
The bid committee has vowed to continue to work on the 2026 bid that promises to provide much needed affordable housing and a post-pandemic economic lift to the region with an austerity-level budget of about CAD $980 million (USD $738 million).
“Although our work remains in its early stages, our venue plans and associated budget have now been submitted to the City and will be made available to the public as will additional information when available,” Bid Chair Lou Frapporti said in a statement released Wednesday.
“The Bid Committee will remain open to further discussions with the Province to align on timing and will continue to work tirelessly with the Commonwealth Sport Federation to bring the Games back to Canadian soil.
“We want to express our appreciation to Premier Doug Ford for meeting with city leaders, including Mayor Fred Eisenberger, to discuss all possible hosting options as we look to create an innovative and fiscally responsible multi-sport Games focused on pandemic recovery and social impact.”
The CGF has previously indicated that it will accept a bid from Hamilton to host in 2030 should the city drop plans for 2026. But then the field would also be open to international rivals who may want a shot at the same opportunity.
Moving the 2026 edition to 2027 is difficult as the global sport event schedule is tightly interwoven with other regional Games and world championships. But Mercanti believes it could be an option.
“Nothing is definitively off the table,” he said.
Birmingham, U.K. is set to stage the next Commonwealth Games in 2022.