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Rethinking our bid for the 2026 Commonwealth Games

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Hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games is said to be a once in a lifetime opportunity (Braden Collum - Unsplash)

By: Dr. Mohd Zaidi Md Zabri

Tan Sri Mohamad Norza Zakaria, President of the Commonwealth Games Association of Malaysia, ignited a pivotal debate when he termed the opportunity to host the 2026 Commonwealth Games a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Dr. Mohd Zaidi Md Zabri

This bid has spurred conversations about Malaysia’s readiness to re-enter the global sports stage, underlined by the statement, “There is nothing common about the Commonwealth Games.” This phrase sets the tone for an economic examination of the immense challenges and implications of hosting such a distinguished event.

The allure of the Games offers Malaysia the chance to shine on the global stage, similar to its celebrated role in 1998. However, this opportunity requires a critical evaluation of its potential economic, social, and environmental impacts. The vision of achieving international prestige and boosting national pride comes with significant financial obligations.

Historically, large-scale events like the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, which overshot its budget to a staggering USD50 billion (RM163 billion), highlight the financial volatility of such undertakings.

The initial GBP100 million (RM598 million) aid to Malaysia, though seemingly substantial, barely covers a portion of the total costs, prompting a reassessment of whether the expected economic benefits outweigh these substantial investments and long-term financial commitments.

The withdrawal of Victoria, Australia, from hosting due to surging costs further emphasizes the financial risks. The government’s inability to find adequate land for athletes’ villages and the contemplation of temporary structures, along with an anticipated extra AUD2 billion (RM6.18 billion) in costs due to various logistical challenges, reflect the multifaceted difficulties Malaysia could also face, possibly on an even larger scale.

The exorbitant expenses encountered by a wealthier country like Australia, culminating in an insurmountable increase to about AUD7 billion (RM21 billion), shed light on the financial impracticalities of hosting.

This detail is particularly alarming when considering that the budget allocated by Victoria for the Games surpassed the entire budget of Malaysia’s Ministry of Defense for the year 2024, which stands at RM19.7 billion.

The Rio 2016 Olympics, which left several venues underused or abandoned shortly after the Games, starkly demonstrates the risks of infrastructure redundancy and financial mismanagement. This cautionary example urges Malaysia to carefully consider the long-term benefits and sustainability of hosting.

While Malaysia’s 1998 Commonwealth Games are fondly remembered, the drastically different economic landscape today requires a strategic approach that thoroughly assesses past experiences.

Notwithstanding, with the Games just two years away, the feasibility of integrating such a colossal event into a broader economic and societal strategy seems increasingly unlikely.

Beyond financial considerations, hosting the Games would impact local communities and the environment. The balance between short-term visibility and the long-term welfare of Malaysia’s citizens and natural heritage is crucial.

Given these points, a proposal has been floated that suggests calling upon the nation’s wealthiest individuals, many of whom have prospered through government projects and contracts, to financially support the hosting of the Games.

The idea posits that if these affluent individuals and businesses could pitch in, potentially amassing a billion ringgit, it might substantially alleviate the financial burden of the event.

Notwithstanding, this notion, while potentially offering a partial fiscal reprieve, raises practical and ethical questions about the feasibility of compelling billionaires to donate their earnings, even if considerable portions of their wealth were accrued via government dealings.

It is critical to scrutinize the wider consequences of depending on private donations for public ventures, emphasizing the need for transparency, accountability, and ensuring such contributions foster a legacy that is both sustainable and inclusive.

As Malaysia contemplates its bid for the 2026 Commonwealth Games, it faces a decision that could significantly shape the country’s future. The quest for international recognition must be balanced against the need to ensure economic stability, social unity, and environmental preservation.

This pivotal choice requires visionary leadership and a comprehensive evaluation process to align with national interests and sustainable development goals.

Navigating this decision is an opportunity for Malaysia not only to assess its global ambitions but also to reaffirm its commitment to responsible governance, effective financial management, and the holistic well-being of its people and environment.

In summary, while hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games presents an opportunity to showcase Malaysia’s cultural and sporting capabilities on a global stage, it is imperative that such ambitions are pursued with a clear understanding of the financial, social, and environmental costs involved.

The potential involvement of the nation’s billionaires could offer financial relief, but the decision to proceed must prioritize the long-term prosperity and health of the Malaysian population over immediate gains.

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The author is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Finance at the Faculty of Business and Economics, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at zaidizabri@um.edu.my

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