Ben Hill is a reporter for The New Zealand Herald

Ditching team sports key for Comm Games survival, according to former Kiwi Olympic boss

A legendary Kiwi Olympic administrator has warned of a dire future for the Commonwealth Games, if they don't change their current format and ditch team sports.

Former New Zealand Olympic Committee vice-president Bruce Ullrich is calling for the event to downsize, adding that a revised format would give New Zealand cities a better chance at hosting.

"New Zealand hasn't made a bid since 1990 and it's just the cost of staging them," he said.

"The other problem is that there's basically no revenues from the Commonwealth Games, the television contract for the Olympics is in the billions, but for the Commonwealth Games [television revenue] is chicken feed with the cost of staging them."

Ullrich is an experienced administrator, having served as chef de mission of the New Zealand team at the 1982 and 1986 Commonwealth Games, and at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. He was also vice-chairman of the 1974 Commonwealth Games held in Christchurch.

His key to revitalising the Commonwealth Games is to rid the event of team sports.

"We're struggling to find cities to host the games. I think the rot started in Malaysia in 1998, when they wanted to show the rest of the world they could host the Olympic Games and introduced team sports."

Rugby sevens made its debut as a Commonwealth Games sport at Kuala Lumpur in 1998, where a star-studded New Zealand team, featuring Jonah Lomu, claimed the inaugural gold medal.

"The problem with the team sports is that it increases the infrastructure costs, so my suggestion is to go back to basically what they were before," Ullrich said.

"You've got to think smart, when you're staging an event like the Commonwealth Games."

Ullrich said the Commonwealth Games hasn't been immune to change in the past.

"We used to have a fenced-off women's village, it had barbed wire ... that's what happened in those days. They wouldn't have any games on a Sunday."

A Commonwealth Games with 101-12 individual sports would give Auckland or Christchurch a serious shot at hosting them, according to Ullrich.

"I would love to see them come back to New Zealand, but in a realistic way.

"Either Auckland or hopefully Christchurch might be capable of hosting in the future, it would be a way to show the world we're back in business.

"New Zealand does a magnificent job of organising events ... we've run three Commonwealth Games in New Zealand and they've been done very successfully."

Ullrich reckons cutting back on the scale of the Games would also encourage more people to take an interest.

"They are a valuable tool for getting athletes used to a big games village and competitions.

"I think if you regard them as a stepping stone for the Olympics, there's some great competition at the Commonwealth Games."

The Games will be held on Australia's Gold Coast in April next year, with 18 sports and 7 para-sports events taking place over 11 days.

- NZ Herald

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