Commonwealth Games - an event too far

After covering so many stories in which politicians and officials talk up the benefits of hosting major events, the Welsh Government's feasibility study into the Commonwealth Games makes remarkably downbeat reading.

We all know sport can be expensive, but what about this for a stark assessment on what it could mean for the public finances: "The level of financial commitment required over the next ten years to deliver all these projects and deliver the games would be unprecedented, extremely challenging and allow almost no flexibility in budget allocation should government priorities change over the intervening years."

And in case you thought there were at least some non-financial benefits, here comes another sledgehammer: "There is currently no clear evidence that holding major sporting events leads to sustained increases in physical activity or increased participation in sport."

And then what about the great defence associated with the use of public funds to host sporting events: profile?

Sacred Cow

Well even on this sacred cow, the feelings were mixed: "Holding the the 2026 Games would be used to strengthen international perceptions of Wales as a confident and independent nation."

But it goes on to say: "The counter-balance is that the Commonwealth countries are not currently the primary target markets for Wales in terms of business and tourism."

So on some of the key questions such as can we afford it? will it make us healthier? and will it help our economy? I think it's more than fair to say that those who wrote the feasibility study remain to be convinced.

When they got wind of the decision, the opposition parties hit full throttle.

Plaid went hard on the projected figures, particularly the size of the £250m contingency fund, or 24% of the overall cost, and how the overall projection of up to £1.5bn was so much higher than the roughly £500m it cost to host the Glasgow games.

Glasgow

That prompted the economy secretary Ken Skates to hit back by saying the Glasgow figure failed to take into account infrastructure costs.

If the games had come to Wales, a new athletics stadium, velodrome, aquatics centre and athletes village would have needed to be built.

The summary of the feasibility study makes reference to a new athletics stadium in Newport for two of the three proposals.

Behind the scenes, officials believe the contingency is standard practice in trying to estimate costs for an event in ten years' time, and it was far better to have a warts and all projection, rather than take a hammering further down the line for underestimating the amount.

Brexit

And then there was the timing. As I said in my earlier blog, blaming Brexit has come at exactly the point at which people are most sensitive about its impact on the economy.

There must surely have been an argument to sit on a decision for a while just to see how the early stages of the Brexit negotiations play out.

I'm told this was discounted because of the pressure of putting together the Welsh government's three-year budget plans.

Coming off the back of the refusal to back the Circuit of Wales for the second time, it appears that this is a government without a huge appetite for risk.

The political calculation will be that in the current climate this will be what's expected of it, despite the criticism from opposition parties that it has responded to the EU vote by shutting up shop.

One thing that's clear is that ministers are not afraid of making quick and negative decisions on anything that is not considered a priority.

Until the situation on the public finances become clearer, there may be many more in the months ahead.