The World Games to be held nine months from now in Birmingham, Alabama, could be much more than the first global mega-event after Tokyo 2020.
They could become “the First Games of the new normal.”
That is the vision of the organizers and of the president of the International Association that owns the Games, the Spaniard José Perurena, who will be in the U.S. city between Nov. 29 and Dec. 7, as confirmed to Around The Rings.
Perurena denies that the one-year postponement of the event as a “domino effect” due to the postponement of the Olympic Games has harmed the interest of sponsors and local public.
“On the contrary. Consideration is being given to how to energize getting back to a situation of normalcy with the Games.
“Everyone is looking forward to getting out, embracing, interacting. These Games can be a window of fresh air that’s going to come in and announce, ‘Look at the Games. We’re in a normal situation now, let’s get on with our lives.’
“I wouldn’t risk my neck (for the Games) to be held in 2021. Today I am sure that it was a good decision to have postponed them and they can also be a revulsive for the citizenship”, reflected the federation member.
This is also the opinion of those responsible for the multidisciplinary event, the first of its kind in the United States after the Salt Lake Winter Olympics in 2002. Thanks to the availability of the vaccine against COVID-19, the chances of meeting again in Birmingham are growing after the experience of separation shared worldwide due to the pandemic.
But aside from the optimism and desire to enjoy full stadiums, local authorities have said they must first listen to medical experts and public health leaders to ensure that people in Birmingham are safe, both for residents and visitors. For that reason in the host city it is a daily exhortation that the more people who have access to the vaccine, the more confidence there will be to share spaces safely.
Perurena will attend a meeting with representatives from National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and National Sports Organizations (NSOs) on December 1 and 2 on preparation for the World Games. The focus will be on how NOCs and NSOs can best support their respective athletes in this edition.
The International World Games Association (IWGA), together with the Birmingham Organizing Committee (BOC), has already sent out invitations to the meeting. The multi-sport event will take place from July 7-17, 2022. The program includes 34 sports with 58 disciplines and 223 medal events. During the 10 days of competition, 3,600 athletes from more than 100 countries are expected.
“We want the NOCs to be more integrated so that the athletes do not participate individually, but as a delegation under the flag of the country”, comments the IWGA president who will hold other meetings during those days with the Organizing Committee and the technical teams to be updated, incidentally, of the qualification system. The agenda, of course, will include a tour of the competition venues.
“It will be the big final discussion meeting to kick off the countdown,” says the European executive.
- Apart from the logical optimism, will there be mandatory vaccinations for participants, and will there be any restrictions on public access to the venues?
- We don’t know about health protocols. We will respect the rules of the health authorities, especially those of the state of Alabama. If a PCR is required beforehand, as in the Olympic Games, or if we have to operate in a “bubble”, we will comply with it. It won’t be complicated for us because everyone will be in the University of Birmingham’s facilities as if it were an Olympic Village. Although I hope that by July 2022 we will have overcome the limitations of COVID.
- Aside from vaccination, the waves of the pandemic continue to hit. Won’t it affect the qualification processes in some areas?
- I am confident that by March 31, 2022, all the international federations will have closed their processes. In any case, there is Plan B. Those that cannot carry out their qualification processes will use the results of their last world championships to qualify. There could also be cases of athletes whose countries do not allow them to compete. We will look for formulas. That will be a topic for our meeting with the team leaders. So far, athletes from more than 50 countries have qualified for the Games.
- Is there a guarantee with visas for the hundred or so countries?
- The management of this aspect is a compromise between the Organizing Committee and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
- Can we expect the presence of Olympic medalists from Tokyo?
- Maybe in karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and softball. We have to remember that our program is based on non-Olympic sports, even if we keep some of the sports that were recently premiered in Tokyo. There will also be breakdancing, which will debut in Paris 2024 and possibly compete in Birmingham. The “crème de la crème”.
Perurena welcomed the recent re-election of Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin for another four years. Woodfin has been actively involved in promoting the World Games since he was elected in 2017.
The host city is already counting down every day, every hour that separates it from the opening moment. Along with the enthusiasm, the initiatives are growing. This October 5, the organizers announced one more that brought to mind an idea made reality at the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta: the acquisition of symbolic bricks by individuals, families and companies that will be placed, in ceremonies, in The World Games Plaza, located in front of Protective Stadium, venue of the opening and closing ceremonies.
This commemorative program will be “a powerful way” to show “civic pride” and leave “a permanent mark” on the city’s sporting history, said Nick Sellers, executive director of the 9th World Games.