Image: Wikimedia Commons/Roger Kidd
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Roger Kidd

How will the Commonwealth Games affect the West Midlands?

The Commonwealth Games are arriving next month in the very centre of the UK. Taking place in Birmingham and across the West Midlands for 11 days, 286 sessions of live sport will dominate national and international attention.

Despite Birmingham successfully winning the bid to host the games back in 2017, large aspects of the game’s preparation and planning were overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, with restrictions thankfully behind the UK, the celebration of sport can occur in full force.

72 nations and territories involving 6,600 sportspeople will take part in 19 different sports, including eight para sports like wheelchair basketball, cycling and table tennis. Kicking off in style on Friday 29 July are swimming, track cycling, gymnastics and triathlon to galvanise attendees.

A whole array of different buildings and stadiums across the area will prove their importance. The National Exhibition Centre (NEC), for example, will be a particularly important venue, hosting badminton, boxing, netball, table tennis and weightlifting.

Similarly, the University of Birmingham will allow use of their squash facilities to ensure competitors can utilise their talents there. It is not simply the UK’s second city that will be responsible for events, but venues across the West Midlands.

For example, Coventry Stadium/Arena will host the judo, Rugby sevens and wrestling. Furthermore, Leamington Spa, home to many Warwick students, will be hosting the lawn bowls at the delightful Victoria Park. There is plenty to see until 8 August 2022.

But what about the history of the games? Though they can appear a part of sporting culture for as long as can be remembered, their origin story is relatively recent. Beginning in 1930, they were then known as the British Empire Games, occurring in Hamilton, Canada with 11 countries and 400 athletes.

The games should be a celebration of sporting excellence and celebrating talent across the globe

Since then, they have continually occurred, only stopping for a hiatus during the Second World War. Team England, as the sporting team is known, have played a role in every games since, topping the medals table seven times (most recently in Glasgow in 2014).

Commonwealth Games England plays a vital role in managing the English team, not least in helping to create a positive sporting environment. Specifically in Birmingham, the 2022 Voices project visited 21 locations across the West Midlands region to hear from local people and discover their aspirations for the project.

Interviewing over 1,000 people, the Games seeks to aim for brand diversity by bringing different groups together. The UK last hosted the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, with London anchoring the second games in 1934. This then marks the first chance for the West Midlands to put itself on the map.

Indeed, the West Midlands have needed to input required practical changes to ensure the games can go ahead. For example, the A34 flyover in Perry Barr, Birmingham, was demolished in favour of a dual carriageway, costing the taxpayer over £27 million. Though this would make it practically easier for the games to occur, over 15,000 local residents objected to the plans.

Furthermore, a National Express Bus Depot in Perry Barr was also abolished to create room for the athletes village. Similarly, the university railway station saw renovations occur to the tune of £56 million, £12 million of which came from central government.

870 days before the games started, and just before the first UK national lockdown on 9 March 2020, a clock was unveiled counting down to the games commencing.

3,000 police officers have specifically needed to be placed on patrol to ensure the games can safely take place, with 1,000 from West Midlands police and 2,000 from other forces. Given one million attendees are expected, that is completely understandable.

Alexander Stadium in Birmingham will form the location for the Opening and Closing ceremonies, ending with Victoria receiving the Commonwealth Games flag as host of the 2026 Games.

At its best, with athletes staying in the local venues, including at the University of Warwick, the games should be a celebration of sporting excellence and celebrating talent across the globe. Get your tickets for watching now!

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