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London: The organisers of the Commonwealth Games say the Andrews government repeatedly assured them it could meet the costs of hosting the event spread across several regional centres and gave no prior warnings before withdrawing from its contract.

Katie Sadleir, the chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, said Victoria’s withdrawal as host of the 2026 games was “devastating” for the event, and was now considering its legal avenues after it withdrew from a contract signed in February last year.

Katie Sadleir, Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation.Credit: Getty

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews blindsided the sporting world on Tuesday when he said the state was no long prepared to host the 12-day event to be hosted in Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat, Gippsland and Shepparton because of cost overruns, throwing the staging of the event into doubt.

Sadleir questioned whether the costs had risen as much as has been claimed by Victoria government officials, when it was only at a meeting in April that the CGF was told that a projected rise in expenditure was roughly half that amount.

She said at all times during the past year the body had questioned whether the Victorian organising committee had really thought through the dispersed model, including when they increased the number of hubs from the original proposal.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has stunned partners in the UK by cancelling the Commonwealth Games, due to be held in 2026.Credit: Gus McCubbing

“When Victoria came to us, and it’s important to stress that they came to us, they said they saw an opportunity to employ a dispersed model, using multiple cities across the state, to drive economic growth in their region,” Sadleir said.

“They assured us that they had the money they needed. So to hear yesterday that it’s not the case, that the government has decided it was too expensive, was a surprise.”

Sadleir said Commonwealth Games Australian chief executive Craig Phillips was “correct” in his statement earlier on Tuesday that Victoria had “wilfully ignored” recommendations that could have reduced costs, such as using existing facilities in Melbourne.

“We had previously gone back to them several times to say, ‘are you sure?’ and were assured,” she said.

The games, staged every four years, involve nations from the Commonwealth — made up largely of states with historic connections to the UK — competing in a variety of sports, similar to the Olympic Games. Victoria’s decision to dump the event resulted in headlines across Asia, Europe and North America on Tuesday.

The Commonwealth Games Australia head labelled the decision to cancel the games as ‘absolutely embarassing’.Credit: AP

She said the federation was blindsided by the decision, having been contacted by representatives of the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet on Monday (UK time) which informed her they were in town and hopeful of securing an afternoon meeting. She said she was led to believe it was a friendly “meet and greet” at the federation’s offices in Westminster.

“Suddenly, we were presented with a fait accompli,” Sadleir said. “They had decided the Games were no longer viable, and they were planning to make an announcement at 9am their time. So they gave us eight hours’ notice.“

“We had a number of questions, particularly around the figures upon which the government had made their decision.”

Sadleir said the federation had “entered into a contract” with Victoria to deliver the games and would be seeking suitable compensation because the Andrews government was “defaulting on that contract”.

“There are a series of clauses that articulate the kind of cash flows that would have happened if the games had gone on,” she said. “We are sitting down to look at options to come to a resolution that we will be happy with.”

The Commonwealth Games, which is due to celebrate its century in 2030, has struggled to spark global appeal in recent years, with only one country other than Britain and Australia hosting the event since 1998.

In 2017, Durban was stripped of the 2022 Games after the South African city failed to meet project deadlines. The event was later awarded to Birmingham, which an independent report published in January this year had contributed £870.7 million to the UK economy, with over half the economic impact generated benefiting businesses and communities across the West Midlands.

When Victoria first announced it would be hosting the games, the estimated cost was about £1.4 billion ($2.6 billion), which was consistent with a total bills of hosting the Birmingham Games in 2022 and the Games on Gold Coast in 2018; both were just shy of £1 billion.

A Downing Street spokesman said on Tuesday it was hopeful a “viable solution” could be found to hold the event in Australia.

Sadlier said her organisation was “open” to discussions with all members with a view to replacing Victoria as host, including a potential return to the UK.

She said discussions about an alternative host, would begin when national federation heads and CGF board members travel to next month’s Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad and Tobago.

Asked if Australia remained the CGF’s first preference, Sadleir said: “We’re open to all opportunities, but Commonwealth Games Australia are a partner with us in terms of the hosting contract that we’ve all been working to for quite some time.

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf said that Scotland may “explore” the possibility of hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games as part of a “multi-city, multi country host”.

“We were desperate for the games to go ahead in 2026, given that we know how excellent the preparations have been going for Team Scotland, it’s also an opportunity for us to compete under the Scottish banner,” he said.

“I’ve asked my team to explore whether that’s a possibility or not, but it may be difficult, but let’s see what the art of the possible is.”

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