Future Commonwealth Games hosts will have the freedom to ditch almost every traditional sport in favour of “entirely new” urban or e-sports as part of a radical attempt to make the event more appealing to younger audiences.
Of the 16 existing core sports that must currently feature at the Commonwealth Games, only athletics and swimming will have protected status on a new compulsory list, with hosts given a “blank canvas” to propose any other sports they want for the remainder of the programme.
Under the proposals, an extended core sports list will become wholly optional for hosts to select from or ignore. It will feature major sports like cycling, gymnastics and diving, with the addition of more recent international sports such as T20 cricket, beach volleyball and 3×3 basketball.
The proposals also encourage hosts to pick sports “relevant to their nation or culture”, raising the prospect of niche sports like kabaddi being included in a potential Indian Commonwealth Games, or lacrosse in Canada.
Although 19 sports will feature at next year’s Birmingham Games, the proposals recommend a reduction to around 15 for future editions, raising the prospect of numerous established sports being ditched – a concern for the likes of non-Olympic sports like squash, netball and lawn bowls, for whom the Commonwealth Games is the pinnacle.
The changes, proposed by the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), are designed to boost interest among a younger generation and encourage cities to bid as future hosts.
Birmingham only stepped in to host the 2022 event after the original hosts, Durban, were stripped of the Games amid financial problems. A host for the 2026 edition has yet to be announced.
“Our Games need to adapt, evolve and modernise to ensure we continue to maintain our relevance and prestige,” said CGF president Louise Martin.
She told the BBC: “Let [hosts] choose what they want to have, what they can do, and who can they share with to host the event.
“I think that would be a win-win situation for everybody because then it opens up Commonwealth Games to other smaller countries and, to me, that is the way forward.
“What we have to do is find the sports that the youth of today work with. So nothing is off the table.”
The CGF is not alone in attempting to court a younger audience. Karate, sport climbing, surfing, skateboarding, 3×3 basketball and BMX freestyle all made their Olympic debut at this summer’s Tokyo Games. Breaking will also feature for the first time at Paris 2024.
The CGF said athletics and swimming have been maintained as the only two compulsory sports “due to their historical place on the programme since 1930 and based on universality, participation, broadcasting, spectator interest, Para inclusion and gender balance”.
In a further effort to encourage more cities to bid, multiple countries will be encouraged to co-host the event, while there will be no requirement for an Athlete Village or single accommodation site.
“We’ve been trying hard to get the smaller countries to host a Games, but they are too small to do it the way it’s gone,” Martin told the BBC.
“So that is why we are looking at the roadmap, to see what is necessary, what do we really need to do. If somebody has a fantastic athletics stadium but the country next to them has got a fantastic shooting range, link up together and see what we can do.”