Does the sporting world really need a Commonwealth Games every four years? Is it worth the trouble, the cost, the sporting overkill, the anachronistic vestages of empire? You can probably tell which way I'm leading these questions.
The 2010 Commonwealth Games, try hard as everyone has at the last minute, is going to fall well short of being the "best games ever", mainly because the authorities in charge of the Delhi games project left too much to do till too late. What could (and should) have been a showpiece of 21st century India's economic emergence and capitalist knowhow, has been yet another symptom of 20th century India's faux-socialist mediocrity, government complacency and bureaucratic corruption. But beyond all that, it has been a huge outlay of funds and diversion of resources. What will the long term benefits be for India, for Delhi, for the Commonwealth? Do we, indeed, need a Commonwealth any more?
My belief is that the Commonwealth Games should be brought to an end. We can hope that the Delhi Games will continue successfully and without serious incident. We know that Glasgow is well advanced in preparation for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. But what about 2018?
Only two cities lodged bids to host the 2018 Games when applications closed on 31 March 2010. One was the Gold Coast, in Queensland and just down the road from 1982 hosts Brisbane. The other is the southern Sri Lankan city of Hambantota, the focal point of a massive regional development after being devastated by the 2004 tsunami.
Both bid campaigns looked to be well advanced - check out the Gold Coast and Hambantota bid websites - and the next official deadline in the bid process comes when both cities are expected to lodge their Candidate City Files with the Commonwealth Games Federation in May 2011.
But a funny thing happened this past weekend, the opening weekend for the Delhi Games.
The Gold Coast crew, headed by Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, made a deputation to Delhi to do a presentation to a meeting of the Commonwealth Games Federation. The Hambantota team did not.
While everyone was expecting Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapska to do a pitch at the Delhi meeting on Sunday, the presidential website tells us that he was opening a teaching hospital in Anuradhapur. There's been no explanation to date of this shift in priorities. It's not a good sign if the Games bid is already playing second fiddle to domestic politics.
And on the subject of domestic politics, there's Queensland. A deeply unpopular state government is currently undertaking an intensely controversial privatisation of the state's rail system to raise funds for long overdue capital infrastructure spending, especially in the health sector. This week, Premier Bligh admitted that the 2018 Games could cost upwards of a billion dollars in upgraded facilities.
The benefits of hosting the 2018 Games on the Gold Coast have been disputed by leading economists, having regard to the impact of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
There's an election coming up in Queensland in 2011, and a strong prospect of a backlash against Anna Bligh's Labor government. Would opposition leader Lawrence Springborg have the courage to cancel the Commonwealth Games bid if elected? Would he even want to?
I believe that the Gold Coast and the state of Queensland have nothing to gain in hosting the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and possibly much to lose financially. Hambantota, where a much larger urban development program is afoot, may well gain from hosting the Games. On a broader scale, it may bring benefits and prestige to Sri Lanka nationally.
But I also think that the Commonwealth Games is a bloated exercise in sporting indulgence that has been devalued by the proliferation of world championships and regional events such as the Asian Games, as well as the increasing irrelevance of the Commonwealth of Nations itself (which now includes former French and Portuguese colonies as well as outposts of the British Empire). I think it would be fitting if Hambantota and the Gold Coast were to withdraw their bids, and the 2018 Games were to lapse through lack of interest. But meanwhile, I'll dream on...