Set your alarms, it's Commonwealth Games time!

By Dr Richard Medcalf, Director of the Institute of Sport and Human Sciences.

Today marks the start of competition of the Commonwealth Games. The Gold Coast of Australia is hosting the 21st Games against the usual backdrop of protests which now accompany global sporting events. Yesterday the opening ceremony was exactly what we have come to expect from such occasions, with plenty of spectacular imagery representing different aspects of Australian culture. For the next ten days we will all become armchair experts and experienced pundits in sports ranging from Bowls to Wrestling, and Netball to Table Tennis.

There is much academic research on the long term legacies of global events, and the well-trodden path of debate in which sports participation is sometimes linked to investment in events such as the Commonwealths. On the eve of these 2018 Games the final evaluation of the Glasgow 2014 legacy was published by the Scottish Government which again confirms that global mega events are not the “panacea for long running social and economic challenges” which some people make them out to be. They also confirmed that participation in sport has not increased since. But to diminish the legacy of mega events to an equation based only on participation would not do justice to the many other forms of legacy which we have come to expect. It is only right that we adopt a critical academic lens when considering the investment made in global mega events – there are many famous examples in Olympic history of crippling debt (think Montreal 1976) and excessive budgets (think Sochi’s £36bn in 2014). However the Commonwealth Games exist on a much different scale to such excesses, meaning their pro-rata legacies are more achievable than their Olympic counterparts. The outcomes seen in Glasgow are likely to be repeated in the Gold Coast, and later in Birmingham in 2022.   

The Commonwealths are a smaller event than the Olympics or Paralympics. Indeed, depending on how you categorise a mega event or monitor its impact, they could be considered to be behind either the World Cup or Super Bowl in their reach. The economic, cultural, and political impacts will be less than those experienced during and after Olympic or Paralympic Games. However the place of the Commonwealth Games in the sporting calendar is an important one, and the way in which the commonwealth movement leads on issues of inclusion and diversity is admirable. For example the 2018 Games will be the first to hold an equal number of events for men and women, and it will be the largest para-sports programme for elite athletes with a disability. The world will be watching to see how Birmingham takes forward such agendas.

The University of Wolverhampton and wider West Midlands are eagerly anticipating the turn of Birmingham 2022. On Sunday 15th April the handover ceremony between the Gold Coast and Birmingham will signify the start of a four year build up to the first ever truly global mega multi-sport event in the region. Although we know that legacy issues are always a challenge to manage, we also know that the Games will accelerate redevelopment and investment in the sporting landscape of our region. Birmingham has a brilliant track record for hosting global events and we will do all we can to support our staff, students and partners to ensure the opportunities for doing so are maximised.

Set your alarms; one for early-mornings over the next ten days if you want to catch the action from the Gold Coast live, and another for four years’ time when the action will be happening on our doorstep. 

This is the first in a series of blogs which will feature reflections and commentary on the Commonwealth Games, with contributions of colleagues from across the University. 

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