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30 May 2022 | 12:12

JR4Julia Regis is Chair of the Cyrille Regis Legacy Trust, which was set up in honour of her late husband, the iconic England and West Bromwich Albion footballer. In this Thought Starter blog, Julia contemplates what the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham later this summer will mean to the West Midlands, and how the Sport for Development Coalition could help to play a key role in maximising and sustaining the impact of community projects and programmes being supported by the Games. 

The concept of the Commonwealth can be considered a double-edged sword. There’s no getting away from how it came about; however in recent decades it has contributed to building a more positive, inclusive world for its 54 member nations. 

Similarly, the Commonwealth Games, which takes place in Birmingham between July 28th and August 8th, can present mixed emotions in and amongst one of the most diverse cities in the UK. ‘Brum’, as it is affectionately known by its citizens, is also Europe’s youngest city with over 40% of the population under 25.

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So, what will the Games achieve in tangible terms for this young, diverse city which it’s too easy to pass off as ‘vibrant’ and ‘multi-cultural’? These are just buzzwords and any proper strategy for legacy must go far deeper. The region suffers from more than its fair share of health and societal inequalities; it’s no coincidence the West Midlands was singled out when the Government recently launched its ‘Levelling Up’ agenda, and talked about reversing the decline in ‘left-behind areas’ suffering from years of neglect and under investment. How can sport be a conduit to a brighter future for young people in these communities? 

Well, the good news is, there’s no doubt the Games offer a legacy of hope and opportunity. The England team which will compete in Birmingham represents a proud mix of ethnicities and communities, truly representative of modern Britain, and away from the track and field, funding opportunities aligned to the Games – like the Places and Spaces fund – seek to bring a sustained improvement to community sport infrastructure. 

INTERVENTIONS

The Commonwealth Active Communities Fund will help improve access to sport for people across the West Midlands, regardless of their ability or their background, and beyond the physical activity agenda, Gen22 (supported by the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner) is offering financial support to a number of organisations to enable them to offer high-quality social action assignments and wrap-around support to young people. ‘Bring the Power’, Birmingham 2022’s Youth Programme, creates pathways for children and young people to get closer to the Games. United by 2022, the official ‘legacy’ charity of the Games, will “touch millions of lives… way beyond 11 days of sport”, and the Hometown Heroes initiative highlights the volunteers, coaches, managers, and grafters who work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep grassroots sport alive. The sport-based community interventions that they and their organisations provide represent the heart and soul of the UK’s sport for development movement. 

But anyone ‘on the ground’ in Birmingham and the Black Country will tell you that none of these initiatives should act as a sticking plaster, or temporary respite as the Games rides into, and out of town. Brummies are too long in the tooth to accept that; the region needs real; sustained change and the Commonwealth Games can be a catalyst for that - as articulated in the 10 legacy areas defined by Games organisers. These community interventions must be properly framed and funded, monitored and evaluated so that sport’s contribution to a fairer, more equitable and sustainable future (to borrow a phrase from the Sport for Development Coalition’s Open Goal framework) becomes much more than words. That’s the exciting opportunity behind them, and the Games themselves. 

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I am Chair of the Cyrille Regis Legacy Trust, founded in honour of my late husband whose football career spanned four clubs in this region; most famously West Bromwich Albion, but also Coventry, Aston Villa and Wolves. The Trust’s ground-breaking ‘Strike A Change’ programme works through the charitable foundations of these clubs, and two more in Birmingham City and Walsall, to help build resilience, character and opportunities for young people from backgrounds who need additional support. The CYRILLE acronym, which underpins the charity’s work, stands for: 

  • C Character 
  • Y Believe in Yourself 
  • R Resilience 
  • Integrity 
  • L Learning 
  • Leadership 
  • Endurance 

This is why, for the West Midlands, the Commonwealth Games will represent so much more than just sport. On June 22nd the Trust will support an event – organised by the B2022 engagement team – to mark Windrush Day, and commemorate the generation which came to this country from the Commonwealth and contributed so much to it, economically and culturally. Equally, we should not be blind to the injustices and inequalities they, and their descendants, have faced – and continue to face. The Games, like Windrush Day, must actively precipitate a commitment to tackling inequalities and ‘levelling up’ the social injustices faced by far too many. 

I recently attended the Football Black List event at Villa Park, which for the first time was being held outside of London. This annual event celebrates the sporting achievements and culture of different ethnicities, and this year coincided with the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd in the USA, which prompted global condemnation. As I listened to the inspiring stories of these individuals and organisations dedicated to social change through sport, it struck me that while sport may indeed present the opportunity, we must continue to nurture and develop that opportunity long after it first appears. For this reason, the Cyrille Regis Legacy Trust is proud to be a member of the UK’s sport for development movement, and through the Coalition’s growing network, we are playing our part in helping to evidence and articulate sport’s contribution to building a fairer society. Through Birmingham 2022, and all the opportunities that sport presents – from global to local – we must not let this opportunity pass us by. 

Read about United by Birmingham 2022.

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