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  • Tuesday Talk - New Commonwealth Games Federation President on 2018 Decision


    "They were two very very good bids," says Prince Tunku Imran of Malaysia. (ATR)
    (ATR) Prince Tunku Imran tells Around the Rings the Commonwealth Games Federation was correct to award 2018 hosting rights to Gold Coast, Australia instead of Hambantota, Sri Lanka.

    That decision topped the agenda for last week's CGF General Assembly in St. Kitts, where he took over the reins from outgoing CGF president Michael Fennell of Jamaica.

    An IOC member from Malaysia and former national squash champion, Imran was the election's only candidate.

    Read on for his thoughts on Delhi 2010, Glasgow 2014, Gold Coast 2018 and his advice for Hambantota.

    Around the Rings: First off, did the Commonwealth Games Federation make the right decision in its choice of host for 2018?

    Gold Coast 2018 celebrates its winning moment. (ATR)
    Tunku Imran: Yes, I'm pretty sure that we made the right decision. I think they were two very very good bids. I think the members decided on a risk basis. The Evaluation Commission put Gold Coast as “low risk” and Hambantota as “medium to high risk” and I think that was something they probably took cognizance of.

    ATR: Both Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and Goldcoast 2018 Chair Mark Stockwell were very complimentary of their rivals from Sri Lanka, and your predecessor Michael Fennell made a point to encourage them to bid again afterward. Do you also hope this isn't the last of Hambantota?

    TI: I encourage any city that feels it can do the Games to bid in the future. We do need to go to new countries, and Sri Lanka would have been a new country for us. They'll have an extra four years, and if the progress is such that they do build the stadia and sports city that they were going to build and Hambantota develops as it's supposed to develop into a bigger economy and a bigger city, then yes surely they should bid.

    ATR: During the post-decision press conference in St. Kitts, you mentioned something about your desire for the Games to come to “this region” – did you mean the Caribbean? Jamaica hosted in 1966, but the Caribbean hasn’t hosted since.

    TI: Yes. Whether any of the Caribbean islands or their cities have the capacity to do it, I'm not sure. But I'm sure over time they will.

    ATR: Were you encouraged by what you saw and heard from Glasgow 2014 this week?
    Glasgow 2014 chairman Lord Robert Smith and CEO David Grevemberg. (ATR)

    TI: Yes, very much. I think they are very well prepared. They have a very good team working for them, including being headed by an American [new Glasgow 2014 CEO David Grevemberg]. But it doesn't matter. It's good management that we're looking for, and they'll do very well. I'm very happy.

    ATR: You talked all week about what a great job Michael Fennell did during his 17 years as president, and it's obvious you have great respect for his work with the CGF. What will you do differently in the role?

    TI: I'm not necessarily going to do anything different. I think he has really established excellent organization over his 17 years, but even during his tenure as president, it was recognized that we do need to review the structure, the governance, all issues pertaining to the CGF and its products and its relationships with stakeholders, so this is going to be a review process which has already commenced in the sense that we've had our first board meeting, and we're beginning this process which we hope will finish by next year's General Assembly in Uganda, and we can establish a strategy for the future for the CGF.

    ATR: As chairman of the CGF's sports committee, are you satisfied with the program as it is now? I know triathlon's mixed relay is getting in.

    TI: I'm satisfied, but I think it can be improved. We need to get some of the international sports federations to focus on some of their events to make them more attractive to spectators and to broadcasters. We need to have a good mix of sports which cover the universality of our movement.
    Prince Imran alongside his predecessor Michael Fennell. (ATR)

    As you know, we have six regions, and we need different sports for different regions. We need to see for instance that more nations win more medals, so if there is a greater spread of medals, that would be good for the movement. We need to see, of course, sports that are attractive and sports that are relevant. When I say relevant, of course, I'm talking about the youth and so it needs constant review. The program needs constant review.

    ATR: What's your ambition for the Commonwealth Youth Games? At present, they're typically a seven-sport ordeal. Is that something you'd like to see grow a lot, or are they meant to be small?

    TI: No, we want them deliberately to be small. I think we want the smaller countries, nations and territories that aren't able to host the main Games to be able to do a Youth Games, and that's why we are focusing on Samoa as the next one [2015] and St. Lucia [2017] as the one after that. The objective is to have them every two years so that youngsters don't miss out because of the age gap of four years.

    ATR: And what about the main Games? How do you ensure that they keep growing given the constraint that there presumably aren't going to be any new members added to the CGF?
    Rwanda took part in its first Commonwealth Games last year in Delhi. (Getty Images)

    TI: Oh, there are. The Commonwealth seems to slowly get new countries. Over the last decade or so, we've had Mozambique, Cameroon and Rwanda joining the Commonwealth. You have to be democratic, and you have to agree that English is the lingua franca of the nation. That's all there is.

    South Sudan also could join, so it doesn't have to be British anymore. It could grow, but there are still a lot of new countries that haven't done the Games, and there are some major cities as well in the Commonwealth that haven't done the Games. And there are other cities within countries. For instance, in my country [Malaysia], there are other cities besides [1998 host] Kuala Lumpur that could possibly do the Games.

    ATR: So is that ultimately the CGF's primary vehicle for growth is taking the Games to new places, or do you anticipate the Games themselves getting bigger?

    TI: I think it's important that the Games do not get too big. We're not trying to rival the Olympic Games. We're only looking at sports that are relevant to the Commonwealth and that the Commonwealth is good at, so we're not really looking at increasing the number of sports or increasing necessarily the number of participants. It's a big enough Games. It's a question now of getting the quality right – the attractiveness and the universality in terms of the competition, and of course attracting the best athletes in the particular sport.

    ATR: Talking about best-on-best competition, what can the CGF do to get best-on-best at the Games? Obviously, there were a lot of stars in Delhi, but there were also a lot of stars missing.
    Six-time world squash champion Nicol David of Malaysia took her talents to Delhi last year to claim her first Commonwealth Games gold. (Getty Images)

    TI: In Delhi, it was really in some of the high-profile sports that they didn't come. It was really athletics, swimming and cycling that the big stars didn't really come, but if you look at the squash program, if you look at the badminton program, all the top stars in the Commonwealth were there.

    It's a few sports that we need now to work with. I think engagement with the international federations is very important, ensuring that the IFs look at the CWGs as an important Games in their calendar so that they protect us in terms of the other events around the world in their sport. I think we have to perhaps market it better to some of the top athletes, and that means making it more attractive for them to participate in.

    ATR: When the top stars in those sports don't show up, is the cause more the host city that the Commonwealth Games are heading to that particular time or do you think it's anything about the Commonwealth Games themselves?

    TI: No, I think most of it has to do with timing. Athletes have specific targets, and if they're out of season, for instance, some of them do not want to involve themselves because they're not at their peak or they're looking at another event or perhaps they set their own priorities. That's why what I'm saying is if they can look at the Commonwealth Games as their top priority in that particular year, then I think we are getting a long way toward the target of getting all the top athletes there.

    Interview conducted in St. Kitts by Matthew Grayson

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