Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (Photo by Luis Ascui / The Age via Getty Images)

Not letting the Games begin

Progressive hubris spoils a chance for Australian success

Artillery Row

For a while, the Commonwealth Games has been treated like a punchline. Compared with its bigger peer the Olympic Games, the event (formerly known as the British Empire Games) brought together members of the former British Empire to compete in various sports.

This includes Australia, which has always been one of the strongest competitors. The 2026 Commonwealth Games, which will be the first under King Charles III’s reign, are supposed to be hosted in the state of Victoria. Now its Premier Dan Andrews has cancelled the event, claiming that the financial costs to hold it have ballooned from $2.6 billion to $6–7 billion.

This isn’t the first time a host city has rescinded its privilege to hold the games for this very reason — the previous games in 2022 were supposed to be held in Durban, South Africa, but moved to Birmingham due to financial constraints — but the decision made by Andrews turned Australia and Victoria into a laughing stock in sports and elsewhere. It is a choice that is purely political, and it speaks to the strengths and weaknesses of Australian leadership.

Dan Andrews has governed Victoria since 2014, earning a reputation for being Australia’s most progressive leader, as fierce in ideology as Nicola Sturgeon. During his leadership, he made Victoria the first state in the country to legalise euthanasia, hosted a Drag Queen Story Hour in parliament and crushed many of his political opponents in the 2018 and 2022 elections.

His approach to COVID made him a notorious figure in Australian politics, when he brought intense lockdowns and vaccine mandates to the tiny state. Such determination to reduce instances led to an increased police force and a lessening in civil liberties, as emergency powers were extended to the Premier. Whilst some residents responded in protest, calling for his resignation, the majority of the population approved of Andrews’ decision-making.

Andrews is strong on political spin, despite his inadequate governance. He’ll blame people who dislike him for the necessity to make unpopular decisions, then conclude that the choice was “the right thing to do”. It also means that vocal opposition — some have dubbed him Dictator Dan for his blatant draconianism — is kept to a minimum.

Andrews’ plans to redirect attention from the Commonwealth Games to spend the funds on public housing and other public causes. His announcement has earned praise from some of Victoria’s denizens — including Monique Ryan, an independent MP who once scolded politicians in Parliament for not wearing their face masks. One Twitter user’s thread went viral as he took the opportunity to claim that anyone who opposed Andrews — the Liberal Party, the dominant Murdoch press, conspiracy theorists — is also against the needs of the Victorian people. His base casts a high and mighty image of the state being culturally perfect, with everyone else being dumb and backwards whenever he faces criticism.

Victorians see any mild conservatism as an affront to their values

The fallout from the Commonwealth Games could hurt him in the long term, though. Andrews’ judgement was met with widespread derision, from athletes to even people who are sympathetic to his politics. The Age, Victoria’s non-Murdoch broadsheet, ran a scathing editorial headlined, “In a normal government, someone would resign over such a colossal embarrassment.” The Guardian didn’t have any kind words either, questioning Andrew’s initial decision to host the Games in the first place. Even if he decided that to spend the funds on other projects, it would require a complicated cost-benefit analysis, according to a researcher from the Grattan Institute, a centrist think tank that previously cheerleaded his aggressive stance on COVID.

As usual, the Premier placed the onus on the Commonwealth Games Federation — despite reports having shown that the Andrews government had woeful communication with the organisation. He included areas like Geelong and Hawthorn front and centre in his model of the Games, separated from a large city like Melbourne, which would usually be more capable of handling a big event like this. More importantly, this event is a reflection of Andrew’s inability to sustain government spending, as multiple infrastructure projects that are critical to improving the state’s well-being have been delayed once again.

If nothing else, it is a sad reflection of the Victorian public. For decades, the state had a reputation for being the most culturally savvy part of Australia, especially in sports. It is home to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the largest stadium in the southern hemisphere. Melbourne holds the Australian Open annually and hosted the 1956 Olympics, as well as the 2006 Commonwealth Games. That history has been sullied for the sake of tightening Andrews’ ideological grip. There’s a saying that “politics is downstream from culture”, and people will find it alienating when the two actively feed off each other. Victorians see any layer of mild conservatism as an affront to their values, and the Commonwealth Games might well play a part in it, as it reminds them of the Empire and the British monarchy.

That doesn’t mean the Commonwealth Games won’t be held in another city, nor that Australia’s image as a sporting giant, especially under the Commonwealth umbrella, has been tarnished. As I write, FIFA’s Women’s World Cup is currently held in Australia and New Zealand in a frosty winter, and it looks to be a massive success for the hosts. Still, a chance for Victoria to enjoy another success has been wasted. As Melbourne became Australia’s biggest city, it had the opportunity to show its physical might with the Games. Instead, it stuck to cowardice.

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