Over the next 12 days, Birmingham will welcome 72 teams and around 6,500 athletes and officials to compete in the biggest sporting program in Commonwealth Games history.
The Games will have more women’s medal events than men’s – 136-134 – the first time this has happened at a major multi-sport event.
The Games will also feature a record 42 Para sports events.
The opening ceremony takes place on Thursday night at Alexander Stadium.
The live action starts on Friday morning and new sports to be seen include women’s Twenty20 cricket, three-on-three basketball and mixed synchronized swimming. This is due to the most attended games with 1.2 million tickets already sold.
The event will take place at 15 West Midlands singletrack venues – at the Lee Valley Velodrome in London.
British Olympic stars Laura Kenny and Adam Peaty will compete in the cycling and swimming events for England, while Geraint Thomas, who finished third in the Tour de France, will ride for Wales, where each country competes individually.
Jamaican sprinting superstar Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, fresh from her 100m world title, will be looking to add an individual Commonwealth gold to her glittering collection.
Ariarne Titmus, who completed the 400-800m freestyle double at the Tokyo Olympics, will compete for Australia in the pool. Bermuda’s Olympic triathlon champion Flora Duffy is expected to take on England’s Georgia Taylor-Brown in the women’s race.
A modern game with a familiar workforce
New names will come and new ideas will come.
At the end of the Games, the Commonwealth nations will compete in a pilot event at the Birmingham International Convention Centre.
However, after 10 days of in-person action, the playing fields will be virtual and the battlefields in cyberspace. The long-sleeved debut in Esports divides opinion, but will attract a lot of interest. Hopefully the final form of the medal table will be closer to someone.
On home soil four years ago, Australia led the way with 80 gold medals and a total of 198 trips to the podium. England are a close second with 45 golds, ahead of India and Canada with 26 and 15 respectively.
Wales will be hoping to build on 2018 when they enjoyed their most successful Commonwealth Games with 10 golds.
World and Olympic medalists in athletics and swimming respectively, Laura Muir and Duncan Scott lead the Scottish team with ambitions to go one better than the nine golds they won on the Gold Coast. Gymnast Rhys McClenaghan, who won Northern Ireland’s only gold last time out, overcame a potential entry block to defend his title with the youngster.
A community that has less in common
But when all the battles are over and the medals are awarded, the biggest question is whether Birmingham – Europe’s youngest city with almost 40% of its population under the age of 25 – will breathe new life into an old concept.
The Commonwealth Games began life in 1930 as the British Empire Games. Today, the legacy of expansion and exploitation in Victorian Britain is explored.
Last March, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were warmly welcomed to Jamaica by Fraser-Pryce and two-time Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah. But the country’s prime minister, Andrew Holness, is clear that he wants independence. And so on.
Sounds of protest mingled with cheers during the royal visit. This can continue during games. Unlike the Olympics, organizers give athletes the freedom to “positively express their values” on the sports field and on the stage. In the years since 1930, the Commonwealth and the Games have become increasingly distinct from the Empire. Athletes from Rwanda and Mozambique, two countries that were never part of the Empire, compete in Birmingham.
Barbados’ 65-strong team will be participating in their first Commonwealth Games since 2020, when the Caribbean country replaced the Queen as head of state.
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston acknowledged the world around the Commonwealth Games was changing but said its importance remained.
“The Commonwealth still has resonance and value, especially in a city as diverse as Birmingham, where there are many Commonwealth people,” he said. “It means something. It may not be what it used to be, but it’s evolving and changing, and that focus on values and what unites us is key.”
Games must continue to evolve, not only to outpace history, but also to keep up with the present.
The first games, held in Hamilton, Canada, promised to be “a mere overstimulation and babel [sic] of an international stadium”.
“It must be better and less rigid, replacing the pressure of international conflict with the stimulus of a new adventure,” the mission statement added.
Space in the sporting calendar is tighter now than it was a century ago – the athletics world championships ended on Sunday, the cricket season is in full swing and the Premier League football season starts on August 5. Is there still room for “cheerful” sports when hate and saliva sell seats and subscriptions? Can any stimulus be “too much” in a world of competing bells, whistles and screens?
Birmingham will need all their strength and energy and every star to shine brightly.
If it does, it may prove that there is room for a unique and rare piece of competitive sport.