Birmingham’s party spirit continues as the Commonwealth Games draws to a close

Mr Blue Sky was beaming and the barges in Birmingham’s waterways were laden with the flags of St George and other competing nations as they bobbed under the Black Sabbath Bridge.

The city embraced the Commonwealth Games like no other before it, a constant backdrop of packed stands providing emphatic confirmation of its relevance in the international sporting calendar.

Eleven days of action came to a close at Alexander Stadium on Monday night as organizers turned the traditional closing ceremony into a non-stop party involving local acts such as Dexys Midnight Runners and UB40.

Ozzy Osbourne performed during the closing ceremony

Ozzy Osbourne performed at the closing ceremony (David Davies/PA)

It continued an atmosphere that had permeated throughout, be it lawn bowlers from the Cook Islands performing an impromptu South Seas love song in Leamington Spa, or the semi-final celebration of Jamaican netball’s ‘Sunshine Girls’.

Even the toughest cynic would be hard-pressed to deny the extraordinary success of a game that seemed to have drawn the short straw in being asked to follow the sun and surf success of the Gold Coast in 2018.

What it lacked in golden beaches, it made up for by being itself. Without Copacabana or Coolangatta, the beach volleyball arena marauded the graffiti-strewn site of an old fruit and vegetable market in the shadow of the bullring, bringing the house down.

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games - Closing Ceremony

Fireworks went off around Alexander Stadium (Jacob King/PA)

Fans flocked to watch early morning rotations of rhythmic gymnastics just as they soaked up the star quality of the likes of Adam Peaty in the pool and Keely Hodgkinson and newly crowned world champion Jake Wightman on track nights to remember.

For a game so often propped up by second-rate standards, Birmingham 2022 showed how to succeed by simply being yourself. It provided a blueprint for future editions by actively prioritizing the pursuit of a feel-good factor over the never-ending narrative of win-at-all-costs.

The memorable moments were not found in world records and sensational split times. They emerged in the deafening roar that swept Eilish McColgan straight down her back to win 10,000 meters gold for Scotland, and the cascades of cheers that greeted another historic performance by England’s women’s hockey team.

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games - Closing Ceremony

Team England walk out during Commonwealth Games closing ceremony (Mike Egerton/PA)

They were found in the tears of Michaela Walsh, a Northern Ireland boxer who turned two consecutive, controversial silver medals into gold at the third time of asking, and got to celebrate with her younger brother Aidan, who also won gold in the men’s competition.

They were found in gold medals for both 17-year-old divers and seventy-something lawn bowlers, and bronze medals for small Pacific atolls whose athletes used their performance at these Games to address issues of global warming leaving their respective nations out of existence. under threat.

Of course, there is plenty of perspective to apply to the record-breaking medal success of three of the home nations, with the Paris Olympics just two years away and some sports, for all their piles of silverware, facing off in the weeks and months ahead.

Likewise, this is a pivotal moment for the Commonwealth Games Federation which appears intent on continuing to undermine its core message of healthy participation by pursuing the full inclusion of Esports in the programme, perhaps starting with Victoria in four years’ time.

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games - Closing Ceremony

The Commonwealth Games will move on to Victoria in 2026 (Tim Goode/PA)

Like a number of the smaller nations, these games remain at risk. By the opening ceremony in Victoria, Jamaica will have joined Barbados in removing the Queen as head of state.

The sporting calendar will continue to be under pressure and the Commonwealth Games’ quest to retain its relevance will continue. All the more reason for it to embrace the successes of Birmingham, and continue to pull out of the Olympic-style stretch for faster, higher and stronger.

Its self-styled selling point as “The Friendlies” has too often provided ammunition to those who deride its continued existence, but Birmingham’s success was striking the right balance between essential star quality and recognition of pure sporting joy.

Birmingham 2022 was a great game, up there in its own way with the great success of London 2012. To paraphrase Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne, who brought the Games to a fittingly deafening conclusion, it didn’t try to change the world.

But these bright and colorful games may have fired up countless children to make their own mark in the years and decades to come.

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