For sports fans, 2020 is already set to be an amazing year. This is, of course, because it is an Olympic year. All eyes this summer will turn to Tokyo, which is making a welcome return to hosting the Summer Games, 56 years after becoming the first Asian city to stage the global sports festival. Anticipation is growing too for the next edition of The World Games to be held in Birmingham, Alabama in 2021. Preparations on the #RoadToBHM have been going well, with the announcement of the sports invited to enjoy some Southern hospitality. Initiatives like ‘The World Games 2021 Experience’, delivered by the American delivery service Shipt based in Birmingham, and by ‘Live Healthy, Play Global’, have been building excitement about the featured sports. Local businesses have also been encouraged to participate and benefit through the World of Opportunity Program.
Having turned the mid-point of the period encompassing the last staging of The World Games in Wroclaw, Poland in 2017 up to the Opening Ceremony in July 2021, it is now that preparations are going to step up. Therefore the New Year seems an opportune time to preview the 20 things to watch out for in 2020 that are going to have the biggest impact on The World Games and the individual sports.
- 1) Qualification In 2019 a few sports had already identified the athletes and countries qualified to be invited to participate in Birmingham. Two (Korfball and Lacrosse) have already assigned all their available places, but for the majority of sports, 2020 is the crucial year that decides who will be occupying the athletes' accommodation when The World Games commences in 2021. As The World Games is only open to elite sportspeople, every sport will be running qualification processes across the globe. Every World or continental Championship will be vital, every performance must be special if athletes wish to gain one of the coveted spots at The World Games.
- 2) Test Events It is not just the elite sportspeople who are starting to hone their preparations. Birmingham will be staging a number of test events over the coming year in order to better understand their hosting responsibilities, and to make sure that the athletes and fans will be able to enjoy the best possible edition of The World Games. Look out on the Birmingham 2021 website for further details of which sports will stage test events and when they will happen. The various events also offer a brilliant opportunity for sports fans. You will enjoy the Birmingham edition of The World Games much more if you are already familiar with some of the sports, athletes and venues. Also, why not ‘adopt’ an athlete, identify a non-American sports person you like, and make it your mission to cheer loudly for them when they are in action in 2021.
- 3) Tickets The test events can also be used to help decide which sports will be ‘must-sees’ when the Games start. Tickets for all the events in 2021 will go on sale later this year. Start planning now which events you would like to attend. Look at the spectacular sport videos, and if any catch your fancy, make a note to order tickets when they are released. Given the way that Birmingham has embraced The World Games, demand for sessions is sure to be high and many will sell out.
- 4) Volunteers Enjoying the excitement of a major sports event as a fan is special, but when you are someone who makes the sport happen, it takes the experience to a much higher level. Birmingham 2021will launch the volunteer programme for the Games later in the year. Why not consider signing up to be one of the volunteers who are going to help deliver the next edition of The World Games. For most of the roles, no knowledge of the sports is necessary; a welcoming and enthusiastic attitude is the main qualification for being an effective volunteer. Become a volunteer in Birmingham, and the experience could be life-changing.
5) Tokyo 2020 Five of the sports that are part of The World Games family will get the long-awaited opportunity at Tokyo 2020 to present Olympic medals to their athletes. The podium moment could be particularly sweet for the sport of Karate. The martial art originated in Japan, and current champions of The World Games Ryo Kiyuna and Ayumi Uekusa could become national heroes if they claim gold in front of their home fans.
- 6) Sport Climbing Japan will also have good medal chances in this popular and spectacular sport that combines speed, strength and agility. Akiyo Noguchi will be optimistic that she can reach the top step of the podium. However in order to fulfil that dream she must find a way to be better than climbing's superstar, Slovenian Janja Garnbret, who in 2019 was unbeaten in the Bouldering discipline of the sport and came away from the World Championships with three gold medals.
- 7) Roller Sport Expect 11-year-old Sky Brown to be the focus of much media attention in Tokyo, and not just because of her age which will make her the youngest Olympian to compete for Great Britain. Having a Japanese mother meant that she could also have competed in Skateboarding for the host nation. Sky's precocious talent enabled her to earn the bronze medal at the recent Park Skateboarding World Championships. A repeat of that podium in Tokyo would be a truly remarkable story.
8) Surfing Board riding will not be limited to the Skate Park; those who go out on water will also get their opportunity for Olympic glory. Surfing's inclusion in the Summer Games would have been especially pleasing to Duke Kahanamoku. As a swimmer, he graced Olympic podiums on five occasions between 1912 and 1924, three of those times to claim the gold medal. However he is best remembered as the “Father of Surfing”, regularly criss-crossing the Pacific to promote this previously unknown water-sport. Thanks to him and other pioneers, Surfing is ready to take its place in the Tokyo 2020 programme.
9) Baseball Twelve years on since Baseball last appeared at the Olympics, it is poised to make its return to the official programme. The bigger story, though, could be a notable potential absentee. Despite Baseball being the national sport of the USA, the American fell to defeat by Mexico in the gold medal match at the PanAm Games. They will have another chance to seal their Tokyo spot at a nervy Olympic qualification tournament in Arizona in March. Should the unthinkable happen, it will probably not affect the atmosphere in Tokyo too much. The Japanese have just as much passion for the sport of stolen bases and home runs. Expect the nation to come to a standstill if they make it to the gold medal match, particularly if it is against South Korea, the Olympic champions in Beijing.
10) Rugby 7s After a memorable debut at the Rio Games, Rugby 7s retains its place on the Olympic roster for Tokyo. Prior to the tournament in Brazil, Fiji had never won a medal at the Olympics; their gold medal in the men’s competition sparked wild celebrations in the Pacific nation. Fiji remain the team to beat, having won the most current World Series, but the United States and New Zealand both recorded Final wins in the individual legs of the World Series. It is the latter nation that will start as favourites for the women’s gold medal. Playing in an irresistible attacking style, they are the current World Champions and put together an amazing 50-game unbeaten run.
The next 10 points you can find here.
Brian Salmon for The World Games
The World Games is a multi-sport event staged every four years by the International World Games Association under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee. The 11th edition of The World Games will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 15-25 July 2021. 3,600 athletes from over 30 sports and 100 countries will take part in the Games.