Birmingham boasts vibrant, developed CBD pockets that would be the envy of many European cities — but is its new look enough to shake off an ugly reputation formed in the past?

Unfairly perhaps, the host of this year’s Commonwealth Games cannot shake its former tag as Britain’s most depressing city, as was found during a 2012 survey of locals, who voted Birmingham the worst place to live in the UK.

Stream Over 50 Sports Live & On-Demand with Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14-Days Free Now >

TripAdvisor polls in the past have also ranked Birmingham as the most “boring” city in Europe. Hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games is supposed to change all that.

Walking the streets in the city centre, you finally get the impression the Games are happening and they are actually being celebrated by locals.

When you leave London’s Heathrow Airport you won’t walk past a single promotional poster celebrating the Commonwealth Games. On the drive into Birmingham you’ll spot a couple of generic signs in the middle of the road reminding you the Games are happening, but that’s about it.

Live sites are still being built at local landmarks and the festival atmosphere is beginning to come through at places like Chamberlain Square, Cathedral Square and Centenary Square to name a few.

However, the true gauge of public opinion about the upcoming sporting feast is in the local newspapers, including the Birmingham Mail and the weekly Birmingham Post, where you have to flick a few pages in to find any news about the Commonwealth Games. It is barely even on the radar of the BBC, the host broadcaster for the Games.

At the time of writing, the BBC’s sport website had just one story about the Commonwealth Games near the top of its home page and Manly’s pride jersey scandal is even considered much bigger news in the UK right now.

The counter argument to what seems like a lack of interest in the build-up is the fact the Birmingham Games will be the best attended Commonwealth Games in history, with more than 1.2 million tickets sold.

The Birmingham attendance is expected to eclipse the record 1.02 million tickets sold at the Gold Coast Games four years ago.

The jury is still out when it comes to locals’ support for the Games, though, with a lingering debate about the $AUD1.35 billion being spent to put it all together.

According to Birmingham City Council, the Games are expected to ultimately pump more than $2 billion into the West Midlands region, home to six million people. The West Midlands combined authority estimates the Games in Birmingham will be worth $1.7b to the regional economy.

Separate to the Commonwealth Games, Birmingham has transformed itself recently with the city’s economy bouncing back and many global businesses, including HSBC, moving national head offices to the city.

However, despite all the growth, another side of Birmingham is ever-present. The city was absolutely gutted by industry and manufacturing sector collapses, beginning in the 1960s.

Even now, Birmingham has the highest rate of unemployment in the UK at 12.6 per cent, according to The Financial Times earlier this year.

This is exactly what the Games are supposed to cover up. Showing the vibrant growth to a global TV audience expected to reach as many as 1.5 billion people during the Commonwealth Games is supposed to kill the region’s ugly, distorted reputation as “Black Country” — a reference to the area’s infamous coal and factory air pollution, beginning in the 19th century.

West Midlands Growth Company head of strategic business development, Jon Baty, said recently the Games are a chance to highlight the change in the way the city is being perceived. He told The Financial Times it is now a case of only “relatively ill-informed individuals” that still define the city by its economic crisis in the 1980s.

While the Olympics have been an unmitigated disaster for host cities recently, highlighted by Tokyo’s estimated losses of around $20 billion for last year’s Games, the Commonwealth Games have been a success story for sporting events driving economic growth.

According to the Commonwealth Games Federation, the 2018 Games on the Gold Coast resulted in a $2 billion injection into the local economy.

The plans for Birmingham are for the Games to provide legacy infrastructure that will avoid the white elephant stadium developments that have plagued Olympic host cities in the past.

The main athletic stadium — Alexander Stadium — in the city’s north west, is being developed into a temporary 40,000 seat stadium before eventually becoming a permanent 20,000 seat venue at a cost of $125m.

The Sandwell Aquatics Centre has also undergone a $110m transformation. There have also been major roads, transport and housing developments.

Birmingham was awarded the games in 2017 after the Commonwealth Games Federation stripped Durban, in South Africa, of the right to host the event for failing to meet promises made in its bid.

Birmingham has delivered on every promise it has made since taking over as host for 2022. Whether it’s enough for the city to show the world how much it has changed remains to be seen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.