Birmingham – Heart of the UK, Soul of the Commonwealth
In just over four years, in July 2022, the world’s gaze will focus on Birmingham, my hometown, as the host city of the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Announced on 21st December 2017 at a press conference at the Arena Academy in Birmingham, it will be the third Commonwealth Games to be hosted in England, following London (in 1934) and Manchester (in 2002).
Sitting at the heart of the UK, Birmingham reflects the diversity of the Commonwealth – indeed it has been referred to as the “Commonwealth City” – and is therefore perfectly positioned to attract people from across the UK, and from all corners of the globe and ensure that the benefits of hosting extend from the city and region, to the UK and the Commonwealth.
One of the youngest cities in Europe, Birmingham is vibrant and richly diverse. As Commonwealth Games Federation President, Louise Martin CBE, said: “With its rich history, cultural diversity, youthful dynamism and ambitious spirit, Birmingham embodies all that we cherish about the Commonwealth, and so the Commonwealth Sports Movement looks forward to collaborating with all the Games partners to showcase the city’s humanity and pride to a global audience over the coming months and years.”
70 Commonwealth nations will compete in 18 different sports. Hundreds of millions will be spent. Heroes will be made. Dreams will be fulfilled. Dreams will be crushed. Men and women, of all abilities, will push – and break – the boundaries of athletic endeavour. And the world will be united, as millions of worldwide spectators tune in to Birmingham – “heart of the UK, soul of the Commonwealth”.
I, for one, cannot wait for the event to commence. I very much hope to be there, in person, for the opening ceremony, on 27th July 2022 – the anniversary of the opening ceremony of the historic London 2012 Olympics. Will Birmingham live up to the hype? Will our medal hopefuls crumble under the media pressure and spotlight, or will the home advantage spur them on to gold medal glory? Only in time will these questions be answered, but one thing is for sure – the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games promise to be a fantastic occasion and viewing a must for all sports fans like myself.
The Commonwealth Games are, however, so much more than just another sporting competition. The Games symbolise a movement that embodies important values for society as a whole – respect, courage, determination, inspiration, excellence, passion, and equality. They are a tool for social and economic regeneration, building homes and creating jobs. And they are an opportunity to achieve a real, long-lasting sporting legacy for the UK and, indeed, for the people of Birmingham. For these reasons, the Commonwealth Games should be of real interest to all sectors here in the second city.
There will inevitably be numerous ways that individuals, communities, charities and businesses can get involved in the Commonwealth spirit and movement. You can use the spirit as an incentive to get fit and healthy, neighbourhoods can organise their own community games, you can join in the numerous mass participation events that will take place throughout the region, and everyone can watch the action – live!
Sport for social change is exactly what Sport 4 Life UK, the organisation I founded and am CEO of, stands for. We use sport as a vehicle to support young people back into sustained employment and education. We promote the Commonwealth values to all our young people, developing crucial life skills to support them in their future careers and wider life goals.
Sport can also teach so many valuable life lessons – how to respond when you lose, sacrifice, commitment, courage, committing to a dream, believing in yourself, team work, never giving up. Combined with targeted employability support, such as accredited qualifications, workshops and one-to-one mentoring, through our structured programmes in Birmingham – we change lives. And we’ll be sure to join the Commonwealth movement and spirit in celebration of the power of sport.
The most important thing is that everyone feels part of Commonwealth Games – by being a spectator, watching it on TV, by joining in the cultural and sporting activities, by working at the event, or by volunteering.
This event will not be on our doorstep again anytime soon and so I encourage you to make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity as the next four years will inevitably go by quickly.