The Commonwealth Games made a few headlines this week by announcing that, after 2022, only two sports will be mandatory: athletics and swimming. Future hosts will get to decide for themselves which events to include, with a recommendation of 15 in total.
A lot of this is about making it viable for more cities to host the games, but it’s also about keeping the event relevant to the elusive “youth audience”, in a similar way to how the Olympic Games has embraced the likes of BMX, surfing and climbing.
So, if you’re planning the 2026 or 2030 Commonwealth Games and want to appeal to 16-24s from across the Commonwealth, which sports should you be including?
Based on GWI data for the 11 largest Commonwealth nations (Australia, Canada, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa and the UK), the top 15 sports look like this, with soccer and cricket some way out in front.
Incorporating soccer in any meaningful way would be a major challenge, given the existing international calendar, but perhaps there’s room for a 5 a-side or beach event?
Women’s T20 cricket is already part of the 2022 programme, and it certainly makes sense to keep that in. Basketball is another sport that is pretty universally popular, with 3×3 and wheelchair basketball taking place in Birmingham.
Extreme sports is a fairly broad term, including things like climbing, BMX, mountain biking and skateboarding, all of which you’d probably want to include.
Wrestling is in there, but that’s WWE rather than Greco-Roman, so unless you can adapt it quite radically, it’s probably one to leave out.
Esports shows up with just over 25% of this audience having an interest, and I would expect that number to go up over the next few years. So you’d want to include it, but think carefully about how to do that in an authentic way (a FIFA tournament could tick the soccer box?).
Which traditional sports could lose their place in this world where we only care about 16-24s? Table tennis (20% of the audience), Gymnastics (19%), Equestrian (14%), Rugby (9%), Hockey (8%), Netball (7%), Triathlon (7%) and Squash (6%).
Of course it’s not just about the young audience, but even when we look at popularity among all age groups, it’s not a radically different picture. Gymnastics squeaking in to the top 15 at the expense of martial arts is the only change.
In reality these choices will be heavily influenced by the location of future hosts, based on which sports are the most popular locally, plus the interests of those with the biggest markets. The Commonwealth is a slightly strange collection of countries, so we could see some very different choices being made from one Games to the next.
It’ll certainly keep things interesting, and keep quite a few federations on their toes.