Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston launched an impassioned defence of the Commonwealth Games but accepted a “much more diverse” range of host countries is required going forwards.
Amid several nations, including Barbados and Jamaica, either removing the Queen as head of state or signalling they intend to do so, the modern relevancy of the Games has come under increasing scrutiny.
But Huddleston was adamant there is still a place in the sporting landscape for the event, which Birmingham will stage over the next couple of weeks, stepping in for the South African city of Durban.
Huddleston told the PA news agency: “The Commonwealth still has resonance and value, particularly in a diverse city like Birmingham where there’s a lot of people who have come from the Commonwealth.
“It does have meaning. It might not be what it was in the past but it’s evolving and changing, and that focus on values and what can unite us is key.
“It’s a great opportunity to celebrate coming together and sport can unite in a way that few other things can.
“We will have an amazing TV audience – around the world there will be hundreds of millions of people that watch this.
“The Commonwealth itself is really important but the Commonwealth Games are a bit of cement that holds it all together as well.”
Only on three previous occasions in 1966, 1998 and 2010 have the Games been held away from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, with that trend set to continue this year and in 2026.
Birmingham fulfils the duties that were taken away from Durban, which was stripped of host city status because of financial constraints, while the Australian state of Victoria will stage the event in four years.
Having discussed the issue with Dame Louise Martin, the president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Huddleston believes joint bids might entice a more diverse range of countries to apply as hosts in future.
Huddleston said: “There is a recognition that we probably need to look at how we can change the Games in the future. There’s been a strong history of Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand hosting the Games, we need it to be much more diverse.
“We will see evolution and I could easily see not only multiple cities but multiple countries actually hosting the Games in the not too distant future.
“That’s something we can look at, potentially, because then the costs can be split of hosting the Games across multiple countries and potentially open up to more countries doing it.”
Huddleston’s focus is on ensuring these Games – which have benefited from a public investment of £778million – provide a long-lasting legacy, with inspiring future generations central to his vision.
He is particularly heartened by the nature of having para-sport integrated within the Games, adding: “If you talk to any athlete, they’re always inspired by a major event, any para-athlete in particular.
“The major events like the Paralympics and the Commonwealth Games really genuinely do inspire future generations of sportspeople to get involved. In particular that inclusivity element with para-sports.
“Being visible, being on television, seeing people with quite acute disabilities and looking at them in a different way and seeing what people with disabilities can do as opposed to what they can’t do sends a really good message.
“It’s great that you can come along to sporting events, say at the Aquatics Centre and there be an able-bodied competition and then the para-competition right after. That is a really important legacy and focus.”
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