Commonwealth Games 2022 – Where are we now?

The final bids have been submitted, the Games Inspectors are due to return, so how fares Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games bid? Steve Beauchampé assesses the situation.

It would be churlish not to acknowledge the achievement of Deputy Council Leader Ian Ward and his colleagues on the Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bid team in submitting the city’s final proposals for hosting the 2022 Games to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport last week. This, following a necessarily rushed and significantly truncated preparatory period after Durban’s withdrawal as host a mere five months ago.

Indeed, it was only last October that Birmingham finally, and after a certain amount of lobbying from individuals and organisations within the region, announced that it was considering a bid to host the Games at all, albeit those in 2026. But with the British Government making it clear that it was now 2022 or nothing, both Birmingham and ‘rival’ UK host Liverpool (who had been drawing up their 2026 proposals for several months prior to Birmingham’s initial expression of interest) were forced to switch their focus to an event that offered four years less planning time.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that come last Friday’s bid submission deadline, several key elements of Birmingham’d proposals were still awaiting public confirmation. The precise location of the aquatics centre (we know it will be somewhere in Sandwell, but nothing more precise than that), the velodrome required for track cycling (Derby Arena seems favourite, but with a capacity of just 1,600 significant expansion of spectator provision would be required) and the Athletes’ Village (expected to be on the former Birmingham City University campus in Perry Barr but neither officially confirmed nor supported yet), whilst venues for perhaps less crucial events, including archery and mountain biking (Cannock Chase has been mentioned) also await confirmation.

By contrast, Liverpool can answer all of these questions, and those that it can’t – primarily relating to the cost and timescale of its athletics stadium – are mirrored in Birmingham. Given the pace at which both cities have had to draw up their bids, it is to be hoped that the government will show flexibility over the next week or so as Games inspectors make their second and final visits to each city, allowing for some late finessing of plans.

Yet Birmingham looks to have encountered several recent setbacks. The recent comments of outgoing UK Athletics Chairman Ed Warner that the London Stadium should host the athletics events in 2022 was met with widespread derision. Warner’s point that with lottery funding for the sport expected to fall following the 2020 Olympics, athletics will need to generate increased income streams and that Stratford East is best suited to achieving this, significantly impacts Birmingham’s plan – pivotal to its Games bid – for the Alexander Stadium to become the home of the sport post-2022.

Last week’s announcement in a report to a Birmingham City Council Cabinet meeting that cricket would no longer feature as part of the city’s bid (apparently owing to opposition to its inclusion in the Games by the International Cricket Council, the sport’s governing body) meant the loss of what had been anticipated to be a key attraction at a Birmingham Games, one with widespread appeal not least amongst the West Midland’s large Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, and a sport at which the city has a proven track record and an international standard stadium.

Cricket’s withdrawal also means that currently three of the region’s largest sports grounds – St Andrews, the Hawthorns and Warwickshire CCC’s Edgbaston Stadium – are absent from the venues slated for Birmingham’s bid, other than that they might perhaps be used as training facilities.

At the time of writing, Liverpool’s bid still includes cricket (so either Birmingham has misunderstood the ICC’s attitude or Liverpool needs to get with it). However, as matches were to be staged at Lancashire CCC’s Old Trafford ground in Manchester then the impact of losing the sport would be far less for Liverpool, and result in a higher ratio of events taking place on Merseyside, whilst Birmingham, already spreading its Games venues around a much wider geographical area than its competitor city, would see the opposite result.

The reasons behind Birmingham’s bid being staged this way (Coventry and Leamington are amongst other confirmed locations) perhaps lie in the difficult relationships and territorial frictions which have existed between Birmingham and the surrounding regions for many years, exacerbated perhaps by financial issues.

In short, everyone wants a slice of 2022 and with funding requests being made to three Local Enterprise Partnerships (Birmingham and Solihull, Coventry and Warwickshire, Black Country) and the involvement of several city and district councils as well as the Midland Metro Mayor’s office and the West Midlands Combined Authority, Ian Ward and his colleagues may have had to make more concessions in terms of wider regional involvement than they would perhaps have wished.

Similar problems do not appear to have beset Liverpool’s bid, but as with Birmingham, this is less a statement of fact than a mixture of off the record comments, hearsay and conjecture as almost no financial information regarding either city’s bid has been forthcoming. Too many details of both bids, and the debate which surrounds them, is conducted in private, with neither public access to meetings nor documents and the reporting of such often heavily restricted by local government regulations or due to their being the province of arms length organisations.

It is a situation that is unlikely to change whichever UK city (if either) is eventually selected to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games.