Cardiff bids for Games half a century after hosting Empire Games.
It is 55 years since the world watched athletes march onto the field at Cardiff Arms Park for the opening ceremony of an event which Cardiff Council is hoping to recreate.
The sixth Empire Games, now the Commonwealth Games, were hosted in Cardiff in 1958. Over 1,000 athletes competed from 35 nations, in 94 events. Today, more than 5,000 competitors take part from 72 different countries and Cardiff Council is planning a bid for the 2026 Games.
The bid has raised questions over the potentially damaging costs of holding the world’s third largest sporting event.
During the past few weeks, proposed closures of Splott Pool and Pontcanna Riding Club, have dominated headlines as public concern over council cuts to community sporting facilities mounted.
A Cardiff bid for the Commonwealth Games has been viewed as bitterly ironic, considering the cost of the £1.5m bid alone could save many of these services. The Games has been given a price tag of £530 million, based on figures from the 2014 Glasgow Games.
Leader of Plaid Cymru, Councillor Neil McEvoy, said: “This decision borders on criminal. It is nothing more than an ill-advised PR stunt which makes the brutal cuts seem unnecessary.”
“This council hasn’t got its priorities right. One the one hand it is closing down basic facilities and trampling on all that’s good about grassroots sport, whilst at the same time trying to reach for the stars.”
Cardiff council’s tight budget means the subsidies for many adult sports have been reduced, along with the closure of a number of facilities.
Cardiff-born Paralympic icon, Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson, said: “The cuts to sport in Cardiff are really such a shame and very disappointing. Cardiff will feel the impact of this massive dent 10 years down the line, but if the money isn’t there it’s very difficult.”
“This Commonwealth bid will benefit Cardiff by putting it on the International map and encouraging more kids to go and enjoy sport.”
Many comparisons can be drawn between Cardiff in 1958 and 2012. Historian Daryl Leeworthy, said: “Councils were not in a position to spend a lot of money so local fundraising committies ran events to raise money.”
Mr Leeworthy added: “The Empire Pool is best remembered.”
In 1958, Wales was the smallest nation ever to host the games. The event was remembered for protests surrounding apartheid, as well as the official proclamation of Prince Charles as the Prince of Wales. But more importantly the games gave a sense of confidence to Wales who secured a best-ever 11th place finish.
Cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport in Cardiff, Councillor Huw Thomas, said: “The Empire Games in 1958 did a lot for Cardiff. People are asking questions about the financial commitment but we are driven by the economic benefits and regeneration possibilities.”
Manchester hosted the 2002 Commonwealth Games, with great success in inner-city regeneration. All of the venues are still being used, including the main stadium which hosts Manchester City Football Club.
Leader of Manchester City Council, Councillor Sir Richard Leese, said: “The 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games left us with a legacy of first class sporting facilities catering to the community and elite athletes. It created enormous pride throughout Manchester and across the region. It had a very positive impact on the city”
The Cardiff proposal has promised to “develop a bid to host the Commonwealth Games which in itself delivers immediate and lasting benefits.”
The council hopes it will provide more tourism and sports participation for Cardiff than the London Olympics.
Welsh Paralmypic cyclist, Mark Colbourne, who won gold in the 2012 Paralympics, said: “I am sure the bid will encourage more people to take up sports in Wales and build on the legacy of London 2012.”