2022 World Games
The 2022 World Games, officially The World Games 2022 Birmingham, USA, was an international sporting competition held in Birmingham in from July 7–17, 2022. The event was postponed from July 2021 after the Olympic Games in Tokyo were delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The event, which debuted in 1981, brings together thousands of athletes every four years to compete in dozens of international sports events which are not contested at the Olympic Games. This was the first World Games held in the United States since the inaugural games hosted in Santa Clara, California.
The Birmingham World Games welcomed a total of 2,721 competitors from 63 countries. As many as 3,440 athletes from 103 countries qualified for the event. Russia and Belarus were barred from participating. The largest contingents were sent by Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, and Great Britain— each with more than 100 athletes. In all, the city hosted more than 13,000 foreign visitors from 40 countries during the event, and sold more than 350,000 individual event tickets.
The International World Games Association (IWGA) was founded in 1980. It is based in Lausanne, Switzerland and acts under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee. Birmingham resident Ron Froehlich was one of the founders, and served as IWGA's president from 1992 to 2014. Froehlich invited a delegation of Birmingham leaders to the 2013 World Games hosted in Cali, Colombia.
The delegation supported the idea of forming the nonprofit Birmingham Organizing Committee (BOC) to bid for the games. Scott Myers and Edgar Weldon of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame led the group, which submitted a 350-page proposal in June 2014. The bid was supported by the City of Birmingham, the State of Alabama and the United States Olympic Committee. An IWGA delegation toured Birmingham that October. Myers and Weldon were accompanied by David Benck of Hibbett Sports and Birmingham City Council president Johnathan Austin when they made the final pitch at IWGA headquarters. The other finalists were Lima, Peru and Ufa, Russia. IWGA president José Perurena announced Birmingham as the selection on January 22, 2015.
Alabama Power executive Jonathan Porter succeeded Weldon as chair of the Birmingham Organizing Committee in July 2016. Porter's committee met with IWGA CEO Joachim Gossow and media coordinator Hagan Bossdorf in September of that year, acknowledging that a lot of work would be required to get the plans on schedule. Local organizers project an overall budget of less than the $75 million originally discussed. Because of limited availability of public funds, planners expect to house athletes in university dormitories rather than in hotels.
Mokovets expects overall attendance of around 100,000, with a "conservative" estimate of local revenues at $5.1 million, or $20.5 million statewide. The Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau has estimated that the event could provide an overall economic impact to the region of between $224.4 and $288.6 million.
In March 2017 veteran event organizer D. J. Mackovets was hired as CEO of the Birmingham World Games Organizing Committee. In December of that year the committee announced a proposed budget of $48 million, more than half of which would be raised privately through corporate sponsorships. The event would require 2,200 volunteers to assist with 3,600 expected athletes from 100 countries, as well as around 1,000 members of the press.
In July 2019 "World Games Vulcan" was announced as the event's official mascot, along with the addition of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama as a foundation sponsor for the event and title sponsor for a "Live Healthy, Play Global" education program. Other foundation sponsors include Alabama Power, ICON Health, Protective Life, Regions and Shipt. BBVA signed on as sponsor of the event's volunteer program in September 2020. In August 2021 Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United was announced as title sponsor for the closing ceremonies.
Mackovets resigned from the Birmingham World Games in late 2019 and was succeeded by Alabama Power Company executive and Alabama Sports Council chair Nick Sellers. LRY Media Group was contracted to produce the opening and closing ceremonies, and to program the "World Games Plaza" at Railroad Park.
The design for the gold, silver and bronze medals awarded at the 2022 World Games was commissioned from artist Bill Hoffman. The medals have the overall shape of the World Games logo and incorporate images of Vulcan,Sloss Furnaces, and a Dart bus, among other landmarks. Medalists were also awarded a trophy featuring the outline of Vulcan cut out of sheet steel. The 2,000 trophies were fabricated by Ernest Anderson, Glen Good, Ben Sorenson, Reagan Hobson and Dane Proctor of Manufacture Good.
After the Tokyo Olympic games were postponed, a decision to postpone the World Games followed. The announcement was made during a video conference with members of the International World Games Association and the Birmingham Organizing Committee of The World Games on April 1, 2020. Soon later the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) announced that they would recognize the World Games as the top women’s international softball competition for 2022, taking the place of the Women’s Softball World Cup.
The event was the first competition in which the Iroquois Confederacy, which competes in lacrosse, was allowed to participate in an international sporting event under its own flag. With the addition of wheelchair basketball and rugby, the Birmingham World Games claims to be, "the first major international multi-sport event with sport competitions for athletes with and without disabilities on the same program." (Nick Sellers, qtd in Wood-August 26, 2021)
Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the International World Games Association followed the recommendation of the International Olympic Committee to bar Russian and Belorussian competitors from international competitions.
Charles Barkley, Vonetta Flowers and Noah Galloway were named as an honorary co-chairs of the event. Henry Panion was announced in December as the artistic director for the games' opening and closing ceremonies. Bootsy Collins was invited to serve as master of ceremonies.
The final tally of expenditures made by the World Games Birmingham Organizing Committee to produce the event was $65.1 million, about $10 million below initial projections.
Revenues generated through public appropriations, sponsorships, tickets and merchandise sales, however, were only $51 million, leaving a $14.1 million shortfall, which was announced in August. The majority of the shortfall was due to fewer international visitors than had been anticipated, partly due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which notably prevented a large contingent representing Chengdu, China, host of the 2025 World Games, from traveling. An additional portion of the shortfall was caused by the withdrawal of two major sponsors in the weeks before the event.
The budget shortfall affected payments due to vendors. In requesting additional appropriations from the City of Birmingham, Jefferson County, and the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, CEO Nick Sellers pledged to prioritize payments to local vendors such as the Sheraton Birmingham, UAB Campus Dining, the BJCC, and Thompson Tractor Co.. The Birmingham City Council approved an appropriation of $5 million from its fund balance reserve on August 23. The Convention and Visitors Bureau approved a $1 million supplemental appropriation in late August, and the Jefferson County Commission approved an additional $4 million from federal American Rescue Plan Act relief funds on September 8.
Additional sponsorship money received would go toward payments due to non-local firms, such as ISB, which provided broadcast services; Swiss Timing, which operated clocks and timers for the events; Revel XP which furnished bleachers, tents and staging; and the Van Wagner Group, which produced some events and medal ceremonies. In addition to commercial suppliers and service providers, the World Games contracted with non-profits, such as USA Climbing of Salt Lake City, Utah, to furnish event-specific equipment and technical expertise.
Among those complaining about not being paid are local musicians who performed at the opening and closing ceremonies under contract with the Birmingham Musicians' Protective Association. As of mid-November 2022, the committee still owed $830,406 to the Sheraton Birmingham, $475,382 to the BJCC, and $64,352 to the Westin Birmingham.
Sports to be included within the event were announced in April 2018 at the SportAccord Convention in Bangkok, Thailand. Softball and racquetball were returned to the event after eight- and 36-year absences, respectively. A total of 35 events will be contested at the 2021 World Games, including 30 selected by the IWGA and five "invitational" events selected by the Birmingham Organizing Committee.
- Opening ceremony
- Artistic & Dance sports (Artistic roller skating, Dancesport, Gymnastics (Acrobatic, Aerobic, Rhythmic, and Trampoline), Parkour)
- Ball sports (Beach Handball, Canoe polo, Fistball, Floorball, Korfball, Racquetball, Softball, Squash)
- Martial Arts (Ju-jitsu, Karate, Kickboxing, Muaythai, Sumo)
- Precision sports (Archery, Billiards, Boules sports, Bowling)
- Strength sports (Powerlifting, Tug of war)
- Trend sports (Air sports, Canoe marathon, Finswimming, Flying disc, Lifesaving, Orienteering, Inline hockey, Speed skating, Sport climbing, Water skiing)
- Invitational sports (Duathlon, Flag football, Lacrosse, Wheelchair rugby, Wushu)
- Closing ceremony
- Avondale Park (target and field archery)
- Barber Motorsports Park (canopy piloting)
- Birmingham CrossPlex (canoe polo, finswimming, lifesaving, wheelchair rugby)
- Bill Harris Arena (artistic roller skating, inline hockey)
- Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center
- Concert Hall (Powerlifting)
- Legacy Arena (acrobatic gymnastics, aerobic gymnastics, dancesport, rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline gymnastics)
- East Exhibit Hall (floorball, korfball)
- North Exhibition Hall (bowling)
- Sheraton Birmingham Hotel ballroom (billiards)
- Birmingham-Southern College (orienteering)
- Bill Battle Coliseum (ju-jitsu, karate, wushu)
- Goldfarb Field at Berylson Soccer Park (fistball)
- Boutwell Auditorium (kickboxing, muay thai, sumo)
- Bessie Estelle Park (boules)
- Hoover Metropolitan Stadium (softball)
- John Carroll Catholic High School (flying disc)
- Legion Field (flag football)
- Powell Steam Plant (road speed skating, track speed skating)
- Protective Stadium (opening and closing ceremonies, drone racing)
- Oak Mountain State Park (canoe marathon, orienteering, water skiing)
- Railroad Park (duathlon, orienteering)
- Sloss Furnaces (breakdance, parkour, beach handball, bouldering, speed climbing, lead climbing)
- PNC Field (lacrosse)
- UAB Recreation Center (racquetball, squash)
- UAB Track and Field Complex (tug of war)
A total of 2,721 athletes from 63 countries competed in the games. Teams from Russia and Belarus were barred from participating after Russia invaded its neighbor Ukraine in February 2022. Members of the Iranian martial arts team were denied U.S. visas, possibly due to reported ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
World Games Plaza
During the event, a "World Games Plaza" gathering place hosted musical acts, interactive exhibits, demonstration games, merchants and food trucks daily from 3:00 to 9:00 PM. Originally planned for Railroad Park, the Plaza was relocated to City Walk, which opened just prior to the World Games.
Numerous venders were offered space in a "Merchants Market" tent, but found that the placement of the market, away from most pedestrian traffic, and its lack of air conditioning, hindered sales. The city offered to refund vendor fees. A separate "Civil Rights Market" operated in Kelly Ingram Park during the World Games.
Acts appearing on the Plaza's "Main Stage" included DJ Stormy, Trevor Lee, Jessica Meuse, Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Lupe Fiasco, and Big Boi.
The Birmingham Xpress bus rapid transit system was completed in anticipation of the World Games. Additional "Ride the Line" services from BJCTA were implemented to enable park-and-ride from points west, south and east of the "Regions World Games Plaza" between Protective Stadium and the Uptown entertainment district. The Blue Line ran west to Legion Field. The Red Line to downtown Homewood, and the Green Line to Avondale Park.
Because of the scale and international nature of the event, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security gave it an assessment rating of "Level 1", requiring "extensive federal interagency support" for security. Patrick Davis, Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Secret Service Birmingham Field Office coordinated those efforts. Extensive street closures were announced in order to establish perimeters which would be maintained from late June until the closing of the games.
As part of the effort to martial additional resources for security, the City of Birmingham entered into an agreement with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, under the auspices of a "High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force", for the state agency to furnish 91 State Troopers, 4 bomb technicians, three K9 teams and associated vehicles to Birmingham during the event. Other agreements were reached with Center Point, Clay, Florence, Fultondale, Gadsden, Gardendale, Jefferson County, Homewood, Hoover, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, Mountain Brook, Pinson, the University of Alabama, and Vestavia Hills for additional law enforcement personnel and equipment, as well as for bicycle racks and light towers. Support from Irondale was delayed because council member Cindy Cuellar objected to Birmingham's non-discrimination policy.
As part of the establishment of secure perimeters, unhoused persons were displaced. Coordination of services for such persons was centered around Faith Chapel Care Center at 921 2nd Avenue North. A "Project Compassion" initiated by City Council member Crystal Smitherman proposed to construct and distribute "micro-shelters" for displaced persons, but was was largely scrapped as implementation fell short of the project's goals. Mayor Woodfin later asserted that no persons would be displaced, and that in addition to other shelter provisions, the city would operate a cooling shelter near Parker High School.
The Department of Homeland Security's "World Games Human Exploitation Task Force" conducted a special month-long "Operation Games STOP" (Strategic Trafficking OPeration), which involved training athletes and hospitality workers about recognizing signs of human trafficking and coordinating the efforts of numerous agencies, including the Alabama Fusion Center, the Attorney General of Alabama, the Jefferson County District Attorney, the West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with local law enforcement agencies across three states. The task force claimed 34 arrests of "commercial sex buyers", along with several other arrests and interventions for various crimes.
Sponsors and partners
In August 2020 the National Football League, through its NFL Flag Football division headed by Izell Reese, was announced as a "premier partner", and presenting sponsor of the event's flag football competition. In March 2021 Brasfield & Gorrie was announced as the event's "official construction partner", with HPM as "official program management partner." Executives Brian Barr and Ryan Austin joined the games' board of directors.
An extensive partnership with UAB was announced in May 2021. The university will host several competitive events, as well as the athlete village in on-campus residence halls, and will serve as "founding sponsor" of the event's "Legacy Memorial". UAB is also providing medical services to athletes and spectators at all World Games venues. Drummond Company signed on as presenting sponsor of event's disability and inclusion initiative.
CBS Sports signed on televise the games in the U.S. market. The CBS Sports Network plans to air a 60-minute highlight show on each night of the 10-day event. CBS TV will air two one-hour specials. Additional coverage will be available on the Paramount+ Premium streaming service.
A series of bright orange-painted anamorphic sheet-metal sculptures were commissioned for the World Games. The sculptures were designed by bDot Architecture appear broken into abstract shapes when seen from the side, but resolve into graphic silhouettes depicting various events when seen from the front. The sculptures were fabricated by O'Neal Industries, painted by Altec Inc., and installed at various locations by Brasfield & Gorrie. The installations are intended to remain after the end of the games as, "a positive reminder of what everybody experienced during the Games," according to 2022 World Games COO Jay Kasten.
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