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Legend has formula for future Commonwealth Games


A legend in Olympic and Commonwealth Games organisation is hoping the Commonwealth Games Federation will secure the future of the Games when they meet on the Gold Coast next month.

Bruce Ullrich, Vice Chairman of the 1974 Commonwealth Games, Chef de Mission of three Commonwealth and Olympic Games teams and a former Vice President of the New Zealand Olympic Committee, says the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) must urgently make some realistic decisions for the future good of the Games.

Bruce wants the federation to return to the formula of hosting a Games with 10 to 12 individual sports which allows smaller and emerging Commonwealth countries to bid for them. He is conveying his thoughts in a memo to Kereyn Smith, the Secretary General of the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) who’s also regional Vice President for Oceania.

He believes his own city of Christchurch, in a revised format, could again be a serious contender for the 2026 Commonwealth Games.”

“As a part of its $50 billion rebuild following the earthquakes, Christchurch is developing world class facilities which include a water sports park, an all-weather track and a multi-purpose event centre,” he says. “With imagination, the all-weather track could be suitable as a main stadium with our two universities again forming the basis of our athletes’ village.”

Bruce Ullrich recalls that, when Malaysia hosted the 1998 Games, they included team sports such as hockey and cricket that more than doubled the number of competitors from 1500 to 2000 to around the 5000 mark.

“That decision hugely increased the infrastructure costs limiting the number of applicants coming forward to host the Games. Bigger is not necessarily better. Durban withdrew its hosting rights for the 2022 Games because of cost,” he says.

“The CGF must make some realistic decisions so the Games can be successfully hosted by smaller countries.”

He points out that New Zealand has not made a formal bid since the 1990 Auckland Games because the price tag of up to $500 million would have to be met by the hosting government and unlike the Olympics, where television revenue is a major source of income, the TV contract for Commonwealth Games is minimal.

Yet he says the Games play a very important part in bringing the Commonwealth together and giving international competition to developing athletes. “There’s no doubt the Games have given our competitors the opportunity for experience which has led to outstanding results at the Olympics,” Bruce comments.

In reducing the Games to 10 or 12 individual sports, he recommends that other Commonwealth countries could bid for the team sports. These would be an official part of the Games, held elsewhere in the same year under the auspices of the CGF.

If the Games progress under a reduced formula, Bruce Ullrich believes it’s Christchurch’s turn. “It would be our chance to demonstrate to the world that we’re back in business,” he comments.

Bruce is part of an Adhoc Focus Group considering a Christchurch application and its interest has been conveyed to Sport NZ which will attend next month’s Commonwealth Games as an observer.

He’s also keen for Christchurch to hold an International Invitation Games in 2024, the 50th anniversary of the successful 1974 Commonwealth Games. Christchurch has also hosted a Centennial Games in 1950 and two New Zealand Games in the years following 1974. It will demonstrate what the city is capable of he says.

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