Mayor of the West Midlands and Old Edwardian Andy Street talks about the economics of the Games, the challenges of the pandemic and his favourite KES memories.
Do you have a favourite Commonwealth Games event?
I’m really looking forward to the women’s cricket because I was determined if the Commonwealth Games came to Birmingham, the world-famous Edgbaston cricket ground needed to be a part of it. And as we’re striving for equality between men and women, one way to make that happen was for women’s cricket to be included. Another sport that is compulsory for me is the swimming – the Aussies are so good, and there’s always such great competition.
What is your favourite KES sports memory?
I don’t know if it’s my favourite sporting memory, but it’s definitely the most vivid because it was the obsession with two things that were barbaric in my day. First, there’s the old swimming pool which we used to go in during snow and ice, so that is etched on my brain as an eleven-year-old. And of course, there’s the cross-country running, which we would participate in whatever the weather, whatever the conditions. Those were definitely two of the most memorable memories.
Why did you support Birmingham’s bid for the games in the first place?
When I was first elected in 2017, one of the very first things we had to do was work collectively together to make sure Birmingham’s bid for the games took place. I really believed it would improve the economy of the West Midlands. I was positive the business case would show that what we got from visitors and the way businesses would benefit would far outweigh what we had to spend as a region. For me, it was a simple economic case.
How successful has the bid been in terms of attracting investment to the region?
It is too soon to say because the main events are still to occur. But when the games actually take place, we will also have a two-week business festival which will be hosted at the UK House in Centenary Square. It will be a brilliant opportunity to showcase our international investment potential. I am extremely confident that when the games have finished, the business case will be proven to be even strong than we originally thought.
How has the pandemic impacted preparations for the Games?
Remarkably little, actually. Perhaps the miracle is that we are going to be ready, despite having gone through the pandemic. Our stadiums, both the athletics track and the aquatics centre are ready. We’ve had success with transport investments such as Perry Barr train station. I was worried that ticket sales would be diminished, but that’s not happened either. We’ve already sold nearly 1.3 million tickets, so all the preparations have been really positive.
I would even say that the Games are even more important following the challenge of the pandemic…
That’s exactly right. Birmingham needs this even more for its international profile and also the Commonwealth needs it because we all yearn for spectator activities like this, and you can see the popularity of them. It is so important it’s done well.
What would you say in response to critics of the Commonwealth Games who believe there’s no future for it and the Commonwealth as a whole?
I don’t believe that’s true. We recently received some good news that the state of Victoria in Australia has stepped forward to host the next Commonwealth Games. I hope this Games will provide the value of hosting, and other places do similar business calculations we did. On the broader question about the value of the Commonwealth, I would say there’s still huge value in it because it’s a club of, likeminded countries, and frankly, Britain needs those clubs around us.
What legacy do you hope the Games will leave in the region?
There are four main things I hope the Games will leave the region. First of all, there are some new facilities that we wouldn’t have got otherwise. The best example of this is the Sandwell Aquatics Centre. Secondly, there is some transport infrastructure that’s left as a consequence of the games, including the upgraded Perry Barr train station, which would never have happened without it. Thirdly, I hope people will get new training and job opportunities. For the Games, we will have created around 35,000 jobs and although these jobs are not permanent, people will get training and experience, providing skills that will last forever. I want people to look back in years to come and say, I got these skills because of the Commonwealth Games. And finally, it’s the business impact. If we are successful in shining a spotlight on investment and getting new companies to locate here, the region will benefit for years to come.