Tourism bodies say Victoria’s smallest towns are the biggest losers after the cancellation of the 2026 Commonwealth Games in regional Victoria. 

Last week the state government withdrew from hosting the major sporting event specifying concerns about a $6 billion price tag.

While bigger towns, such as Ballarat (athletics) and Bendigo (track cycling),  were set to host multiple larger events, smaller towns were delighted to have been selected for their own competitions.

It was a promise the government proudly said in 2022 would lead to a serious cash and tourism influx, both greatly welcomed after years of financial strain during the pandemic.

Now, with the games no longer in the pipeline, businesses are looking to the future with uncertainty.

Smiling Daniel Andrews in a stadium. A man and woman in blue suits walk beside him, other people mingle behind, cloudy sky.

Last year, Daniel Andrews announced in Ballarat that regional Victoria will host some of the games. (ABC Ballarat: Lexie Jeuniewic )

Small towns ‘big losers’

Paul Williams owns a patisserie in the small town of Creswick in central Victoria.

He has been operating the business for over a decade now, a beloved local staple for a morning coffee and a pastry. 

Like so many other regional businesses, Mr Williams struggled through the lockdowns and the pandemic.

Mr Williams said there were still challenges, with retaining staff a major issue.

“These days, I feel like [trade] is not as consistent as it used to be,” he said.

“We used to be able to have a good feeling, week to week, of what was going to happen. But these days, I’ve just got no idea.

“Literally just holding on, hoping. You just don’t know what is going to show up.”

A mountain biker on ride through trails in Creswick western Victoria

Creswick will still retain a promised 60-kilometre biking network, blue skies through hazy trees. (Source: Hepburn Shire Council)

Creswick was due to host the mountain biking trials in 2026, and with Ballarat only 20 minutes away, businesses like Mr Williams were depending on that influx of trade.

“I think the Commonwealth Games would have put us on the map,” he said.

“We are in a pretty central area. It’s very easy to get to. But the Commonwealth Games would have made it extra special.”

A bald man laughs as he puts on a apron in front of a coffee machine, bakery stands behind with croissants and danish.

Paul Williams has had the French-style patisserie for more than a decade. (ABC Ballarat: Laura Mayers)

Daylesford and Macedon Tourism chief executive Steve Wroe said there had been hours of labour already put in from the organisation to prepare for the lead-up to the games.

“This was a once-in-a-generation opportunity in terms of opportunities for the development of infrastructure but also that broader growth, promotion, and visitation,” Mr Wroe said.

“We were gearing up for what would’ve been the biggest sugar hit in visitation in many, many years.”

‘They will never recover’

Mr Wroe said they were anticipating “potentially hundreds of thousands of people and millions of dollars” during the 12-day event.

“Our region is nestled between what would’ve been the key hubs — Ballarat and Bendigo. It would’ve been one of the biggest beneficiaries in the state,” he said.

“Operators …  in towns like Creswick, they’re going reasonably well … but they’ll never recover from the pandemic.

“That’s a couple of years of lost revenue they will never be able to recover from.”

An empty street and blue skies, a bare-branched tree, an old Victorian rotunda in the distance.

Creswick has lost the opportunity to host the mountain biking trials in the games. (ABC Ballarat: Laura Mayers)

The state government announced $150 million would be poured into a Regional Tourism and Events Fund. A state commitment to a 60-kilometre biking network through Creswick will not be impacted by the cancellation.

Hepburn Shire Mayor Brian Hood said the council would focus on new ventures to boost the small town’s capital.

“A lot of the accommodation businesses, cafes and pubs will feel it a bit now, but for Creswick, we will have the trails, and they will generate a lot of visitation in themselves,” Councillor Hood said.

A flooded wide verandah with green posts, streets are also flooded with four-wheel drive marooned.

Creswick has had a tough time with flash flooding wreaking havoc in 2022. (Supplied: Jamie Davies)

Sports museum will lose out after cancellation

The Rochester Sports Museum was expecting busloads of sports fanatics and international tourists to travel from nearby Bendigo through March 2026.

It would have been a boost for the town of 3,000 that had just gone through its worst flood on record and is still rebuilding.

John Forbes, a local Mitiamo man, was a sheep farmer turned sports manager.

He amassed a large number of sport memorabilia, mainly gifts from sporting heroes, during his time as national promotions manager at PUMA Australia for 22 years from 1985.

Forbes died in 2021 at the age of 79 after falling into a creek on his property but left behind a sporting legacy at the museum.

The collection includes pieces from the likes of Don Bradman, Dawn Fraser, Shane Warne, and Greg Norman.

The museum includes memorabilia from local sporting stars such as Sharelle McMahon, current Paralympian Col Pearse and past cycling icon Hubert Opperman.

Mary Knight has volunteered as a guide at the museum since its opening in 2019.

She said it was the town, not just the museum, that lost out after the cancellation of the games.

A serious elderly woman with short grey hair, wears a black jacket labelled Mary and a Rochester Sports Museum on one side.

Mary Knight says they were expecting increased number of crowds during the games. (ABC Bendigo: Tyrone Dalton)

“Bendigo refers a lot of people to this sports museum. Word of mouth and we would have probably done very well here,” she said

“We did have a couple of months here of just devoted to the Olympics when the Olympic Games were on. And it was incredible the amount of people that just come to see that.”

“We often have a busload of 40 people, so you’ll have four people here working at the one time.”

A state government spokesperson said while the government had been willing to help with the last-minute need for a host city, they would not at “any price”.

“The main reason we agreed to host the games was to deliver lasting benefits in housing, tourism and sporting infrastructure for regional Victoria,” the spokesperson said.

“That’s why the Victorian government will deliver a comprehensive $2 billion package to ensure regional Victoria still receives all the benefits that would have been facilitated by the games – and more.”