8 min read

Global Eyes on West Midlands

The Commonwealth Games, held every four years, bring the thrills and challenges of competitive sport to cities around the world and provide a different platform to nations than that of the Olympics.

In England, the Games have previously been held in London (1934) and Manchester (2002). In the summer of 2022, Birmingham is playing host to thousands of athletes and visitors from around the globe.

The Games bring an unparalleled opportunity to the region – from jobs creation and infrastructure improvements, to showcasing everything the region has to offer visitors, and investors – the event provides a platform for lasting changes and positive legacy.

We caught up with John Crabtree, chair of the board for Birmingham 2022 to get his view on the forthcoming event, as well as our honorary graduates, husband and wife, Hugh Porter MBE and Anita Lonsbrough MBE, to ask whether they’re excited about the 2022 Commonwealth Games being held in Birmingham.

Hugh and Anita are no strangers to the excitement that major sporting events bring, and even more so when they’re on home turf. Hugh, born and raised in Wolverhampton, was educated at the city’s St Peter’s Collegiate School and discovered his passion for cycling at Halesowen Velodrome, watching icons of the sport race round the track, and is honorary patron of Halesowen Athletic and Cycling Club.

Both have the weight of success behind them: Anita won gold at 1960 Rome Olympics for the 200m breaststroke, she says “Swimming the Olympic Games was the main title to win in my time: to be selected to represent your country is a great honour. I never thought of winning or losing, I just wanted to compete and do my best and winning was something I never really thought about. It was a big thank you to my parents and to all those who had helped me along the way.”

Hugh holds four world titles in the individual pursuit and won a gold medal for the individual pursuit in cycling in 1966 at the Commonwealth Games in Kingston. He missed out on a medal at the Tokyo 1964 Olympics, where Anita was the British team’s flagbearer, but that’s where he and Anita first met, marrying the following year.

Hugh remembers: “It was a privilege and honour to represent my country. Winning the gold medal in Kingston, Jamaica, has a special place amongst my achievements and there is no prouder moment for an athlete than standing on the podium with your medal around your neck and the national anthem playing.”

Anita explains how things have changed immeasurably for athletes since they competed: “Lottery funding and the fact that
competitors can be sponsored and receive financial rewards at major championships means they can now earn money and set themselves up for life after sport, really it’s just like any business.

“Because the athletes will be competing for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there is much more friendly rivalry between the British competitors. Sports people thrive on pressure – it brings out their best. They will be motivated because friends, family and supporters will be watching, unlike when the competition takes place on the other side of the world where only a limited number can make the journey.”

There is no prouder moment for an athlete than standing on the podium with your medal around your neck and the national anthem playing.

“The Commonwealth Games are known as the friendly games: as the majority of the competitors speak English you forge friendships, and we always say sporting friendships last for ever.”

Happy to see the Games return to the UK, Anita and Hugh are proud of what the area has to offer both competitors and investors.

“It is really good to see a global, multi-sport event take place in the West Midlands. Hopefully the athletes will have fond memories of the Games and their time in the area where the people were friendly and welcoming, and will get time to see what the West Midlands has to offer such as its museums, football stadiums and cricket grounds etc."

John Crabtree, OBE, Lord Lieutenant of the West Midlands, as well as chair of the board for Birmingham 2022 says: “The Games Federation applauded the city’s ambitious and innovative vision to benefit its local community, showcase the region and warmly welcome and inspire athletes from across the Commonwealth.

“The Games are already proving to be a catalyst for transformation across the West Midlands, attracting new investment and funding, creating jobs and apprenticeships for local people and new opportunities for local businesses, as well as accelerating projects that ensure the region is ready to host a fantastic sporting celebration"

“New sports facilities have been constructed which local residents will be able to use long after the Games have left town and transport improvements have been fast tracked. Alongside the physical changes and benefits the Games also provide an opportunity to showcase Birmingham to the world and to inspire young people.

“Local businesses are expected to benefit from more than £300 million of Games-related contracts. Based on what other host cities have experienced, there could be a £1 billion boost to the regional economy thanks to the Games.”

Anita agrees the Games will have an impact on individuals, as well as businesses:
"Watching some of the world’s top competitors will inspire people to take up sport and use some of the magnificent facilities built for the games. Not just as competitors, but as social sport and a keep-fit, healthy activity."

John points out that post-Games plans are just as important as the run-up, and will still have plenty to keep him busy following the closing ceremony on the 8th August.

“In many ways, this is where the real work will begin. Against all the economic pressures of recent years, we have done our very best to develop a programme which will leave lasting benefits from the Games across the whole region.”

But before looking ahead to its closing, John, as a Birmingham man, born-and bred, can’t wait to see the Games finally begin and to see the results of the £778 million investment (75% from Government, 25% from Birmingham City Council and its partners). Unlike the majority of ticket-holders, he’ll have unique insight into how the Games have been brought to life.

Based on what other host cities have experienced, there could be a £1 billion boost to the regional economy thanks to the Games.

“I shall want to be everywhere all the time, but obviously, that won’t be possible! If I’m lucky and time allows, I will slip away to my favourite site, Touchbase Pears in Selly Oak, where we will have one of our neighbourhood festival sites, or perhaps to the amazing festival site we’re building on the old Smithfield market in the heart of the city. Smithfield is also where we’re constructing two temporary venues, so hopefully, I’ll be able to watch some beach volleyball (capacity of 4,000) or basketball 3x3 and wheelchair basketball 3x3 (capacity of 2,500). It will be the perfect location to be able to watch sport and perhaps have a couple of pints, so that would be absolute bliss.”

Wolverhampton Alumnus Chosen as Baton-Bearer

University of Wolverhampton graduate, Atif Ali, is one of over 7,500 baton-bearers worldwide trusted with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to carry the baton in the Queen’s Baton Relay in the run-up to the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Her Majesty the Queen placed her message to the Commonwealth into the baton, on the 7th October 2021, at a special event at Buckingham Palace, signifying the start of the 294 day relay.

Atif says: “I grew up in Birmingham and love my home city. Being nominated and then selected to become a baton-bearer is an absolute honour for me. I’ve been touched by the fact that I’m seen as a figure of inspiration. Birmingham is a diverse, young city and I’m looking forward to it being on the world stage this summer.”