Emily Martin reports as we look forward to the forthcoming Commonwealth Games…
The eyes of the world will be on the West Midlands this summer as the city of Birmingham will play host to elite athletes from around the world flocking to participate in the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
The prestigious international sporting event is held once every 4 years and there’s a tough act to follow for this one as Gold Coast 2018 (the event’s predecessor) took place in Surfer’s Paradise on the Gold Coast of Australia.
Unlike Surfer’s Paradise, Birmingham is not perhaps known for its sun-drenched coasts and crashing waves but, with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase the city on a global platform, the team at Birmingham 2022 have seized it with both hands and, on the water-sports events alone, have spent £73 million on preparations and new facilities.
Birmingham will host the games from July 28 to August 8 and, purpose built for the occasion, is the new Sandwell Aquatics Centre, located in Smethwick.
Funded by Sandwell Council, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games budget and contributions from Sport England, Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership, Sandwell Leisure Trust and the University of Wolverhampton, the centre has brought, and is expected to continue to bring, a host of great benefits to the local by providing jobs and investment in the community through businesses supplying goods and services.
The team have got the whole community involved, not only engaging with local schools and providing work experience placements on site but also encouraging young people into construction apprenticeships and into learning new skills.
With the games fast approaching, work on the £73 million project is almost complete and it’s hoped that the state-of-the-art facility will create a lasting legacy for community health and wellbeing. with its 50m Olympic-sized swimming pool as well as a 25m diving pool, community swimming pool and seats for up to 1000 spectators.
The seating capacity for the venue during Games will actually be approximately 5000, as temporary seats are being brought in for the event, but the venue will retain 1000 permanent seats when in legacy-mode.
The construction is being overseen by Sandwell Council and they will own the facility and operate it after the Games when the centre will be converted into a community leisure facility and is expected reopen to the public in May 2023.
Ian Reid is the Chief Executive of Birmingham 2022 and says: “It is wonderful to see the latest developments at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre. With the tiles laid in all of the pools, the moveable floor complete and the dive-tower steps in place, you can really now get a sense of what an impressive competition venue it will be.
“With aquatics as one of our most popular sports in our ticket ballots, and thousands of people securing tickets to come and watch the swimmers, Para swimmers and divers compete here this summer, I know the atmosphere in this venue is going to be absolutely electric.”
The project is being overseen by Sandwell Council and Councillor Danny Millard, Cabinet Member for Culture and Tourism, with a responsibility for Commonwealth Games, said: “It’s incredibly exciting to celebrate the completion of more major construction milestones at the spectacular aquatics centre in Smethwick. The construction work has come on leaps and bounds since it began, and you can now begin to visualise how the venue will look when completed.
“At Sandwell we are incredibly excited and proud to be hosting the swimming and diving events for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The centre will be used by local people after the Games and will serve the community and wider region for decades to come.”
After the Games, it’s hoped the centre will become a regional diving- hub and Swim England has appointed a regional diving officer to look after the venue and to develop a diving programme for the facilities. The aquatics centre will be converted into a community leisure facility and together with it’s 1000 spectator seats, in legacy-mode it will have: the 50m Olympic Sized Swimming pool, 25m Diving pool, a community swimming pool, three activity studios, two 4-court sports halls, 108 station gym, 25 station ladies only gym, indoor cycling studio, dry diving centre, sauna/steam room, football pitch, changing facilities, urban park and children’s play area and a café.
Sarah Barrow, a Team England diving silver medallist at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, and now Swim England’s Diving Development Officer for the West Midlands region, visited the aquatics centre for the first time since February 2020 and was very impressed with how the venue is taking shape. “The progress that has been made on the centre is phenomenal, it will be an incredible venue for the Commonwealth Games and I know the swimmers and divers will be excited that they get to compete in the only brand new venue being used at Birmingham 2022.
“However, this facility is about so much more than those eleven days of sport, as the Sandwell Aquatics Centre will be a crucial hub for diving in this region and I can’t wait to see young divers from across the West Midlands using these fantastic facilities.”
There will be 11 days of swimming and diving in total, so the centre will be in use for every single day of the Commonwealth Games. Due to take place at the aquatics centre are Swimming, Para Swimming (July 29-August 3) and Diving (August 4-8) 0 that’s 66 individual medal events and means there will be more medal-moments here than at any other Birmingham 2022 venue.
Swimming and Para Swimming will feature events for all four strokes: freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke and backstroke. There are individual events as well as relays. Diving events will include 1m and 3m springboard events for men and women, plus there are synchronised 3m springboard and 10m platform events too. And for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth Games there will be mixed synchronised diving.
The games have been meticulously planned under the shadow of the pandemic. But with Covid-uncertainty hanging over the event, as a result, the team are prepared for anything, planning for all possible scenarios and working closely with the Government and public health experts.
Lead Communications Manager Sarah Dickson said: “We are learning from all the events which have been successfully staged in the UK and abroad and we will continue to do so as there are several global events being staged before Birmingham 2022 takes place.
“We are hoping to be the first major multi-sport event post-pandemic to welcome full crowds to our stadiums for a fantastic edition of the Games.”
There are 72 nations and territories that are eligible to take part in the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games although not all will have a swimming and diving team.
Athletes will have plenty of opportunity to train ahead of their events. Sandwell has a purpose-built temporary warm-up pool for the athletes to use, just outside the main facility and this will be removed after the Games.
Overall, it’s hoped that the Aquatics Centre will be a fantastic facility for the community for many years to come.
Ellie Simmonds is a Birmingham 2022 board member and five-time Paralympic Champion. She recently visited the Sandwell Aquatics Centre, said: “It was amazing to visit the Sandwell Aquatics Centre and to see the fantastic progress that has been made. Not only will this be an incredible venue for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games but it will also be a wonderful facility for local people to use for years to come.”