Ebola, fire threaten to derail Commonwealth Youth Games

By Greg Stutchbury

AUCKLAND (Reuters) – The Commonwealth Games Federation’s desire to develop competition for younger athletes survived one blow but suffered another within minutes at the organization’s general assembly on Wednesday.

The organization had barely stared down a request for sanctions be leveled against Samoa, just days before the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games began, before Caribbean nation St Lucia withdrew from hosting the 2017 Games for financial reasons.

Samoa, which is hosting the fifth edition of the Youth Games from Sept. 5-11, had refused to issue visas to the Sierra Leone team due to the fear of the Ebola virus in west Africa.

Delegates from Ghana had proposed issuing sanctions against the South Pacific nation, or the CGF could at least reimburse Sierra Leone for costs incurred for preparing a team to compete in Samoa.

CGF chief executive David Grevemberg added the organization had done all it could to try to change the Samoan government’s mind, but were unsuccessful.

Outgoing President Prince Tunku Imran managed to defuse the situation while delegates from Fiji and St Vincent and the Grenadines suggested sanctions would be disproportionate for what was a health decision made by a sovereign government.

The CGF was then told that St Lucia had to withdraw from hosting the 2017 event after a fire had caused severe damage to a hospital in the south of the island, meaning the national stadium had been adapted into a temporary medical facility.

Design issues, however, had slowed the rebuild of the hospital, which would now not be completed until 2016 and the cost of returning the stadium to a sports facility was in excess of $15 million and also not be completed in time for the Games.

Prince Imran said that Canada and Scotland had expressed an interest in hosting the 2017 Games.

“The board met earlier this morning and decided to put this to the meeting, but also give the other members who would like to offer to host the Youth Games in 2017 a chance,” Prince Imran said.

Grevemberg said the CGF had not received any official bids but would call for initial expressions of interest by the end of October and then initiate the formal process after that.

(Editing by John O’Brien)