Commonwealth bid is a golden opportunity for Birmingham

Despite its size, Birmingham has too often missed out on hosting major international events. The announcement of Birmingham’s bid to host the 2026 Commonwealth Games is a huge opportunity for the city and it is vital the council get the public fully on board.

The benefits of hosting such a high-profile international sporting event are evident from the experiences of other UK cities who have hosted the Games. The 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester gave the city a significant economic boost which was felt for years to come. It was estimated that the games created 5,000 jobs and attracted £670m investment in sporting venues, transport and other infrastructure.

Glasgow, which held the Games in 2014 saw similar economic benefits. Although the long-term impact on the city remains to be seen, a 2015 post-games report estimated the 2014 Games generated £740m for the Scottish economy and brought £282m worth of tourism to the city.

Both cities gained a wealth of new sports facilities from the City of Manchester Stadium, now home to Manchester City Football Club, to the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow. Not only are these facilities available for public use but they also contributed to attracting future national and international sporting events. The Paralympic World Cup has been held in Manchester since 2005 and the Manchester Aquatics Centre, which was purpose built for the Games, is now the home of British Paralympic Swimming. The Games put Manchester on the sporting map. The city is now the home of British cycling, with its Velodrome, which came of age at the 2002 Games, dubbed ‘the medal factory’.

1-sir-chris-hoy-velodrome-glasgow-flickr-graeme-macleanGlasgow’s Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome was purpose-built for the 2014 Games

Certainly Birmingham already has a number of venues that could be utilised, including the NEC, the Barclaycard Arena and the Alexander Stadium, which annually hosts the British Athletics Championships and the international Diamond League athletics meetings. However the Games would provide an opportunity to upgrade existing sports facilities as well as invest in new purpose built venues. Birmingham notably lacks its own velodrome and aquatics centre. Further investment in facilities would provide a boost to the city’s sporting credentials as well as its economy.

The construction of new facilities in East Manchester was key to sparking the regeneration of the area which saw an influx of investment. Similarly, Glasgow used the opportunity to revive the city’s East End, which had suffered from deindustrialisation. The area benefitted from a host of new sports facilities, alongside improvements to transport links and a £3.7m Community Hub. After the games, efforts were made to ensure the local community continued to benefit and the Athlete’s Village was transformed into an urban housing project, providing sustainably-built and affordable homes for thousands of residents. The Games could provide similar opportunities for Birmingham to revitalise neglected areas of the city.

There are also less tangible benefits hosting the Games could bring to Birmingham. Investment in sports facilities helps foster grassroots local talent and such a high-profile sporting event would generate excitement, inspiring the next generation. Hosting the Games would put Birmingham on the map and showcase the city on a global stage. The Games was pivotal in raising Manchester’s national and international profile; in the year following the Games, Manchester rose from 19th to 13th in the European Cities Monitor, which ranks cities based on their attractiveness as business locations.

At a time when the government is attempting to revamp the region’s image through the promotion of initiatives such as the ‘Midland’s Engine’, a successful Games bid could be central to dispelling the perception that the West Midlands will always be lag behind the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Hosting the Games would help foster some much-needed pride in the city and wider region.

Glasgow Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony 2014The 2014 Commonwealth Games generated £390m for Glasgow’s economy

Certainly this will come at a cost.  A commonwealth bid is a long-term investment; the Glasgow Games cost the taxpayer £425m. However of this cost only £80m was covered by Glasgow City Council, with the Scottish government covering 80% of the public funding requirements. By 2015 it was estimated that the Games had already generated £390m for the city’s economy. The Games would attract a large amount of investment in Birmingham from central government which would otherwise have been directed elsewhere.

There are, however, some worrying signs that Birmingham may not be willing to throw its full weight behind the bid. Back in April, leader of the City Council, John Clancy was hesitant to commit to a Commonwealth bid stating it “would detract from our immediate priorities”. Labour’s West Midlands Mayor candidate, Sion Simon, has also been reluctant, commenting, “Projects like [the Commonwealth Games] come with a great deal of local taxpayer risk.”

Birmingham must be brave enough to fully commit to a Commonwealth bid. If the city is to reap the rewards of hosting the world’s third largest multi-sport event, the council needs to sell the potential benefits to the public. The city will face tough competition from Liverpool, who beat Birmingham to become European Capital of Culture in 2008. The investment of a Commonwealth bid will only pay off if the people of Birmingham are on board and confident in the city’s potential.