It has felt like a long time coming, but we finally made it: the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games kicked off last night in all its glory, as the new-look Alexander Stadium came alive for the Opening Ceremony.
In the three years since our appointment as Official Legal Advisers to, and Official Sponsors of, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, we have been busy in our role to help to bring the Games to life. There has been plenty of challenges along the way, but not even the COVID-19 pandemic could derail all of the work put in towards reaching this moment – and what a celebration it was!
The Ceremony felt like a long-awaited reunion of long lost family and friends, with the Games being the first real opportunity for us all to get back together at a global multisport event. Attendees from around the world gathered together in a colourful celebration of sport, Commonwealth cultures, and of course, Birmingham, while some of the city and wider region’s most famous faces joined in on the party.
Abuzz with anticipation, the crowd were glued to the showcase before them, from the first beat on the Sakara drum of Nigeria as the Ceremony kicked off, to the final chord of local boys Duran Duran’s ‘Ordinary World’, and throughout all the fanfare in between.
The iconic Birmingham bull was recreated with an ode to the West Midlands’ pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution, while there was a specially-curated performance featuring dancers from the Birmingham Royal Ballet, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Mass Choir and more. You had to see it to believe it, as performers dressed as the underpaid and overworked female chain-makers of the Industrial Revolution escorted a 30 foot mechanical bull into the stadium. To those less-informed, it must sound bonkers, to those familiar with the city and region, it was an emotive reminder of the area’s heritage – the grit, the graft – and a signpost of how far we have come since.
These days, Birmingham is far more than the manufacturing and engineering centre that it is always considered by outsiders – apt though the prideful performances to such industry were, the diversity, youthfulness and creativity was also on full display. Juxtaposed with the classic cars forming a Union Jack in the centre of the stadium was a cohort of BMX riders flipping and spinning off of graffiti-laden ramps, before tributes to the Windrush generation and the more recent contribution of the NHS during the COVID-19 crisis provided a tearful reminder of how when times have been hard, Brummies-by-birth and those settling in the area have knuckled down together.
Unity was the theme once more as athletes from all 72 nations and territories that will compete over the next week and a half took to the field, waving to the crowd and holding their flags high in the air. Chins up, shoulders back, proud – just like Birmingham, as it welcomes the world.
As the Ceremony continued, some of the Commonwealth Games’ most famous stars from years gone by took on the role of Batonbearer for the very final leg of its journey: Max Whitlock, 10-time Games medallist in gymnastics (including four golds!), tumbled and leapt across the stadium’s concourse before being hoisted into position. As he overlooked the crowd, the gymnast handed off the Baton to proud local, Birchfield Harrier and bona fide Alexander Stadium royalty, Denise Lewis. It was a showpiece act fit for a king, so it was apt that from there, His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales took his place to deliver Her Majesty The Queen’s message.
Duran Duran and a pyrotechnic display that wouldn’t look out of place at the turn of the New Year sent the 30,000-strong crowd home happy, with tears of joy aplenty as the big Brummie farewell wound down a glorious Ceremony. There was something for everyone, and it was both the perfect welcome to Birmingham’s cultural and sporting showcase, and tribute to the people that make it great.
Ultimately, the message of the Ceremony was clear: no matter where you are from, or who you are, you are welcome here. Locals know that there are few things more comforting than a ‘How am ya bab?’ – native lingo for ‘how are you’ – and the Ceremony welcomed the world to Brum with a warm embrace synonymous with those words. With the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games now officially underway, it’s time for the rest of the world to embrace the city in the same way – you might just fall in love with it.