The sporting event of the year has begun in style, with Birmingham rolling out the red carpet for the 2022 Commonwealth Games. It comes 20 years after the UK last hosted the Games in Manchester, and on the 10th anniversary of the 2012 London Olympics. We have already seen some of the best athletes in action, and will see thousands more in the coming days. An estimated audience of 1.5 billion is expected to tune in from around the world.
The opening ceremony was a tribute to the city of Birmingham, showcasing its diversity, unity and culture. It had something for everyone, from William Shakespeare to Black Sabbath. Not many cities can claim to be home to such a diverse group of cultural icons.
Sadly we shall miss out on seeing Indian icon and Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra, out of action with an injury, but the Indian contingent is not short of star power with the likes of shuttler P V Sindhu, star wrestler Bajrang Punia, boxer Lovlina Borgohain and the Harmanpreet Kaur-led women’s cricket team.
Weightlifter Mirabai Chanu made new friends after winning her gold medal, as images of her performing a full split with a six-year old English fan went viral — all helping to show why the Commonwealth Games are also called the “friendly games”. The story of Sanket Sargar, India’s first medallist at the Games, will inspire the next generation of athletes from around the country. And the historic gold medal won by the women’s lawn bowls team could well lead to more people picking up bowls rather than bats.
Off the field too, these Games will be a benchmark for future sporting events. They are the greenest games ever — the first ever carbon-neutral Commonwealth Games —and also the most inclusive, with eight fully integrated para events, more than at any other Commonwealth Games. It is also the first major multi-sport event with more medals on offer for women than for men. And in terms of its development, it is the fastest modern Commonwealth Games ever, having been put together in four and half years rather than the usual seven, despite the challenges of the pandemic.
The West Midlands region is one of the most diverse regions in the UK, home to over 190 nationalities. So Birmingham 2022 will feel like a “home game” for every nation competing. Some 6,500 athletes and officials are attending the event, including a 322-strong contingent from India. Birmingham’s large Indian-origin population will undoubtedly ensure that the Indian visitors feel at home. And, of course, the Queen’s Baton Relay has travelled around the Commonwealth, via New Delhi, Bengaluru and Bhubaneswar, before finally arriving in Birmingham for the opening ceremony.
The UK is partnering with India to develop world-class infrastructure and sporting facilities. Last month, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Delhi Sports University (DSU) and the University of East London (UEL) to exchange knowledge, research, teachers and students. As Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said, this will provide a pathway for both countries to work together in advancing sport and providing an environment of excellence to support sportspeople in their journeys.
The Games are accompanied by a cultural festival and a significant business and tourism programme. The UK government is also hosting a delegation of Indian sports industry leaders, who are meeting their counterparts in the UK to discuss the latest innovations in the industry. The UK has expertise in the design, reuse and adaptation of venues, as well as in widening access to sport and supporting social and economic legacy. This capability has been used on major projects such as the 2012 London Olympics, the Pan American Games in 2019 and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Excitement for the Games is palpable, with 1.2 million tickets sold by mid-July. The organising committee has created 41,000 Games-time roles, including some 14,000 volunteers, to deliver a smooth experience for athletes, officials and spectators.
From the iconic Edgbaston cricket ground to the newly built Sandwell aquatics centre, the action is taking place in cutting-edge venues, which will leave a lasting legacy for the local population. The aquatics centre, built from scratch, will be transformed into a state-of-the-art sports and wellbeing centre for local residents to use for years to come.
The Games are a celebration of sporting success as well as our Commonwealth connections, allowing us to come together to celebrate our shared commitment to democracy, peace and prosperity. It is indeed an honour to welcome athletes and fans from India and across the Commonwealth. But at the British High Commission we will certainly be cheering for India!
The writer is the Deputy British High Commissioner to India