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Commonwealth Games officials see post-Brexit boost

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's eventual exit from the European Union can boost the stature of the Commonwealth Games as the quadrennial event seeks new host cities in different regions, organisers said on Wednesday.

Peter Beattie, chairman of the organising committee for the 2018 Games in Gold Coast, Australia, told reporters Brexit would add weight to the Commonwealth, whose 52 members are mostly former British colonies and include India, Canada and Nigeria.

"The reality is that Brexit makes the Commonwealth more relevant," he said at a media presentation of the next edition of the Games.

"In my view the Commonwealth is more relevant than it was 20 years ago. After Brexit the Commonwealth has to forge a new relationship (with Britain) and the Commonwealth Games are an integral part of the new Commonwealth, the new relevance."

David Grevemberg, the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) chief executive who previously led Glasgow's 2014 Games, agreed that the changing landscape could be "a great positive opportunity".

"We are focused right now on ensuring the Commonwealth family is strengthened by whatever challenges and opportunities are hitting our world right now," he added.

The American was speaking days after the CGF announced that the South African city of Durban had lost the right to host the 2022 Games after failing to deliver on bid promises.

Durban, which would have been the first African host city, missed contract deadlines last November and failed to establish an organising committee or make agreed payments to the CGF.

Britain and Australia have hosted four of the last five Games, with New Delhi marking a first for India in 2010.

COMMITMENT TO AFRICA

The absence of Chinese, U.S. and European athletes has meant the Commonwealth Games have a far lower international profile than the Olympics, despite a strong following in sporting rivals Australia and Britain.

The British cities of Liverpool and Birmingham have already expressed interest in replacing Durban. The Gold Coast has ruled out hosting two Games in a row.

Grevemberg said the CGF wanted more countries to host the Games, adding they had to be accessible and value for money.

"We are absolutely committed to a Games for Africa," he said. "That is unwavering. Africa is a major player and a Games needs to come to Africa."

He rejected comments by South Africa's Minister of Sport, Fikile Mbalula, who said on Tuesday that the CGF's financial demands were excessive.

"We have simply looked to enforce the bid documentation and what was committed to," he said. "There has been no changing of the goalposts or any additional demands (made)."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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