Next Thursday, Birmingham will welcome over 5,000 of the best athletes from across 72 commonwealth nations to live, train and compete in the ‘Friendly Games’ across their city, a Games which is recognised as one of the pivotal, long-standing global sporting spectacles of the last century.
Travel a little over 90 miles north, and you reach Manchester, a city justifiably taking the opportunity to reflect on what’s happened since hosting the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games, an event that truly encapsulates the word ‘legacy’ for both the city and further afield across the UK. The Commonwealth Games are rightly regarded as a turning point in Manchester’s history, bringing back to life deprived districts and regenerating vast parts of the city. The legacy of the tournament has helped to cement Manchester’s reputation as one of the world’s leading cities for sport – and two decades on, its impact lives on.
By common accord, the Games was one of the most significant milestones in the recent history and development of Manchester, with wider significance in terms of the approach adopted by London towards staging the 2012 Olympics, and Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Arguably both cities success in winning and hosting these events has been helped by perceptions of Manchester’s success.
Previous major sporting events, including Olympic and Commonwealth Games, had varying levels of success sustaining long term benefits beyond the Closing Ceremony. Manchester City Council prioritised the need for the Games to produce long-term benefits at a local, regional, and national level. There were to be no white elephants in Manchester.
Utilising sport and physical activity as the catalyst for the regeneration of East Manchester, the Games delivered transformational impact io improve the health and well-being of residents, seeing increased participation levels and encouraging residents to lead more active lifestyles, connecting communities and residents to a local world class offer, delivering the most effective legacy programme following any major games.
The development of east Manchester has been testament to the faith City leaders placed in the Games and the benefits it would bring. The building of a stadium with a clear and thought-out after-life and the associated infrastructure helped realise the investment now seen, not just in facilities, but in structure and policy which recognised the benefits of local supply chains, local employment, skills development and aspiration for high quality environment, sustainable development, and engagement at all levels in the spirit of building neighbourhoods.
Add to this development, the continual investment of public funds to maximise impact, with Manchester securing capital investment of over £290m post Games and establishing a Waterfall Investment Fund, bringing together National Governing Bodies and key players from across the sport, health, leisure, and physical activity landscape who now call Manchester home. In 2018 the City established Manchester Active, a first tripartite exemplar of good governance between Sport England, Public Health and a Local Authority. If we look forward to a further 20 capital projects either in development or underway, anticipated to be around £146m and all completed by 2025, it’s clear Manchester believes in actions over words.
The Games also established Manchester as a world-leading city for sport with a comprehensive infrastructure of elite training environments, producing athletes connected with Manchester who dominate podium places at recent major events, and a vibrant events programme, which the City builds upon year on year. This is most demonstrated by Manchester twice picking up the accolade as the no.1 global city for sport, an accolade we will never stop aspiring to win.
As a city of ‘firsts’, Manchester was also proud to lead the way, by including a fully integrated para sport programme. Since 2002, Manchester has continued to showcase elite para sport via the staging of many major events including the Paralympic World Cup – the largest multisport paralympic event outside the Paralympic Games from 2005 – 2012. The city is now home to several elite para sport squads including the hugely successful GB Para Cycling and Swim Teams, and will host the 2023 IPC World Para Swimming Championships at Manchester Aquatics Centre, originally built for the 2002 Games.
Our city-wide (and now GM wide) volunteering programme is a true testimony to the Games, creating a unique volunteering scheme that offered individuals from some of the most disadvantaged areas across the north-west the opportunity to participate as volunteers, addressing social exclusion. The MCRVIP programme continues to successfully provide experience and opportunities to volunteers at sporting and community events across Manchester to this day.
And here we are, almost 20 years to the day, with a City with the same desire, commitment, and strategic priority for a journey it started more than 20 years ago, burning brightly. A journey that will, without question, continue for many years to come.
We wish Birmingham a successful hosting of the Games, and would encourage all local Birmingham residents to engage and support in this once in a lifetime opportunity. Let’s hope that in 2042, we have two neighbouring UK cities, equally as proud of their event hosting reputation and the legacy the Games leaves behind for their residents and for their cities.
Let the Games begin…