The World Games is an athletic event of global proportions.
For the most recent chapter in their 35-year history, nearly 3000 athletes from more than 100 countries gathered in Cali, Colombia to compete in 26 different sports. As part of the International Olympic Committee family, the event takes place the year after each summer Olympics.
Since the first World Games in Santa Clara, CA in 1981, ten different countries have hosted the event, including such cities as London, England; The Hague, Netherlands; and Akita, Japan.
So how did Birmingham, AL – a town of just over 1.1 million – become the host site for the 2021 World Games?
It all began when Scott Myers, Executive Director of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, was invited as a guest to the World Games in Cali, Colombia in 2013. And after realizing that Birmingham is just as well equipped to host the event as Cali was, he decided that it was worth a closer look.
Upon returning, Myers reached out to several community leaders and organizations, including the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau, to further investigate the possibility of hosting a future World Games.
Birmingham’s biggest selling point wasn’t what they could do in the next six years, though—it was what they already had.
“There’s a huge monetary expense a lot of times for these cities that bid on the Olympics, where they have to build stadiums, they have to build venues to support those sports,” said David Galbaugh, Director of Sports Sales and Marketing for the Greater Birmingham CVB. “The World Games, they don’t want that. They want to come in a community and utilize the facilities that they already have.“When they came to Birmingham and saw the facilities that we have, they got the overall experience that is our community, they left with a real sense that Birmingham could host these games and host them very well.”
Even with a plethora of assets and capable hands steering Birmingham’s World Games coalition, the city of Birmingham still faced an uphill battle.
For one, the World Games had already taken place in the U.S. And unless you count West Germany and Germany, the event had never taken place in any particular country a second time.
Then there’s the stiff competition. Birmingham was up against the likes of Lima, Peru (one of the 20 biggest cities in the world, bigger than any U.S. city) and Ufa, Russia (a city of comparable size but one backed by one of the world’s largest countries that has never hosted the World Games.)
Thankfully, Birmingham’s diverse infrastructure and numerous state-of-the-art facilities helped us rise to the top. From the Birmingham CrossPlex to the Barber Motorsports Park, we had every base covered.
That’s a crucial element to hosting an event like The World Games, where just about any kind of sport you could dream up is on display.
There are rather common sports like lacrosse, kickboxing, archery, bowling, and even American football (which will be right at home here in Birmingham).
But then there are many off-beat offerings (at least here in Birmingham) that will draw a diverse crowd: fistball, korfball, finswimming, orienteering, artistic roller skating, even tug of war.
Thankfully, the city of Birmingham is more than adequately prepared for its time in the spotlight, and the successful pitch by the city’s World Games coalition is proof that the citizens of Central Alabama (and sports fans throughout the region) will fill the stands.
“This event hasn’t been back in the U.S. since ’81,” said Galbaugh. “It’s been international, and we competed against some really good cities to win it. To put Birmingham out there, to put the U.S. back out there for the World Games, it was great to see such overwhelming support.”
“We are happy to showcase our sports in Birmingham in July 2021, and we are sure that we will be offered optimal conditions for our sportsmen and women there,” said José Perurena, President of the World Games.
When the torch is passed our way after the 2017 World Games in Wroclaw, Poland, we’ll be ready. And we hope to see you there.