“One of the best experiences of my life”
Exactly one year ago, on 7 July 2022, Mayor Randall Woodfin spoke the decisive words: "I declare The World Games 2022, Birmingham, USA open." More than 26,000 spectators in the Protective Stadium heard his words. More importantly, the official formula was the starting signal for 3,458 athletes from 99 countries to compete in 223 medal events, divided into 58 disciplines and 34 sports, for the gold of the Games in 2022.
Eleven days later, when IWGA President José Perurena officially declared the eleventh edition of The World Games closed and passed the flag to the representatives of Chengdu (People's Republic of China), the host city of the TWG 2025, he described the character of the Games in Alabama as the “Comeback Games”. After the two years of the pandemic, The World Games family celebrated a reunion. What made this reunion so special was that thanks to the proverbial Southern Hospitality, “the world” felt at home in Birmingham. During his visit to Birmingham, IOC President Thomas Bach said it like this: “The athletes are happy and when the athletes are happy, we are happy. And the athletes were very happy.”
For the first time at The World Games, the medal tally was won by Germany (24 gold medals, 7 silver, 16 bronze) ahead of the USA (16/18/10) and Ukraine (16/12/17). Germany finished behind the USA (340) and ahead of Italy (185) in the ranking of countries with the most participants (237). Bart Swings from Belgium was the first athlete to win gold at the Olympic Games (Ice Skating) and then gold at The World Games (Speed Skating) in one year. Bart Swings stood at the top of the podium first in Beijing and then in Birmingham. Sandra Sanchez from Spain achieved gold in Tokyo 2021 in Karate and then gold at The World Games.
The USA women's Softball team won 3-2 in front of 10,000 spectators at the Hoover Stadium, in a re-match after losing to Japan at the Tokyo Olympics. Wheelchair Rugby, a para-sport, was on the programme for the first time. Breaking, a discipline in dance sport, took off. For the first time at The World Games, Breaking will also be represented at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. These are just some of the sporting highlights.
To describe the impact and echo of the Games, the memory of spectacular victories and great competitions held in 23 high-class venues is not enough. It’s not even sufficient to mention the total economic turnover, 165 million Dollars. One of the great moments of the Games was when the spectators stood up to welcome the athletes from Ukraine at the opening ceremony. Beyond the day's events, 90 per cent of Birmingham residents were and are proud that their city hosted the largest multi-sport event in Alabama history. This was the finding of an independent survey compiled by Quantum, a company based in Scotland.
Haylie McCleney, a native of Alabama and gold medalist in Softball, complements this official impression with a personal experience: "I like to think the people of Alabama and the city of Birmingham are extremely proud to have hosted such an incredible event for athletes all over the world. For herself this is true in any case: "It was a dream come true to wear USA across my chest and compete in my hometown and home state. I never could have dreamed it was a possibility."
Sarah Spacek, one of over 7.500 volunteers, remembers the Games like this: "I can't believe it's almost been a full year! It feels like yesterday that the Games were here in Birmingham. The World Games was honestly one of the best experiences of my life – the experience I had volunteering during The World Games." She also said: "There are still quite a few people who talk about the Games. Most people talk about how fun and exciting the Games were."
Nick Sellers, the CEO of the Local Organising Committee, had promised a "once in a lifetime experience" beforehand. The two quotes above prove it: The Games have kept this promise.
And speaking of pride: the IWGA CEO wrote in his report for the Japanese World Games Association: “86 per cent of the athletes who answered our questionnaire said they were satisfied or even very satisfied with The World Games 2022. This result makes us proud."
Part of the legacy is also that Nick Sellers pledged lifelong friendships in Birmingham to all those who worked to make it a success. Birmingham has now a lot of new friends. Talking about lifelong commitments, quite a number of athletes wear The World Games logo as a tattoo after the Games.
IWGA CEO Joachim Gossow described the legacy of the Games less emotionally: "The Games in Birmingham meant a step forward in many areas." He referred to the cooperation with ISB. Hence, the IWGA was able to improve the quality of the TV production once again and reached 268 million people with TV images from The World Games. The IWGA standardised many processes in the run-up to the Games. The decision enabled the Birmingham Organising Committee to ensure fair and orderly competition in many places.
It was also positive that we were able to sign Memoranda of Understandings with several NOCs or National Sports Organisations during the Games, and had fruitful discussion with several more. The close cooperation with the NSOs and NOCs will be crucial for the further development of our event in the future. In addition, we were able to offer the sports that were not on the programme, but were part of The World Games family, showcase opportunities in the Sports Garden.
Joachim Gossow: "The Games pointed the way for how we can continue to improve, and how we will implement our claim of `Growth beyond Excellence' step by step in the future."
One year on, what José Perurena said at the closing ceremony still applies to the Birmingham Games: "The World Games 2022 was a great festival of sport and also a demonstration of the ability of human beings to compete hard, while still living together in peace and harmony".
The World Games is a multi-sport event staged every four years by the International World Games Association, organised with the support of the International Olympic Committee. The World Games 2022 was held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 7-17 July 2022. 3,600 athletes from 34 sports and 100 countries took part in the Games. The 12th edition of The World Games will be held in Chengdu, CHN in 2025.