After all this time, it’s finally happening. The World Games begin this week in Birmingham.
The 2022 World Games – originally planned for 2021 but moved due to the pandemic – start on Thursday, as thousands of athletes from more than 100 different countries will compete in dozens of sports. Let’s take a by-the-numbers look at what the Magic City can expect.
It’s been 2,720 days since the International World Game Executive Committee officially announced that Birmingham would be the site of the next World Games, then expected in 2021. The announcement was made back in January of 2015.
A lot has happened since then, including three national championship seasons and three Heisman trophies for the Alabama Crimson Tide football team, Donald Trump’s entire presidency, oh, and that whole pandemic thing. Someone born on the day of the Birmingham World Games announcement would currently be enjoying summer break between first and second grades.
After that long wait, the World Games will last only 11 days – starting on July 7 and ending July 17. But the Games pack a lot of action into that short time, including a huge lineup of musical acts, events throughout the city and of course plenty of live sports.
34 sports, 200+ medals
The World Games is a competition for sports that aren’t part of the Olypmics – and there are some fun ones set to be featured, from korfball to tug of war to canoe polo. Some of the sports might not sound familiar, but don’t worry – there are plenty of sports you should be familiar with, like softball, flag football and even bowling.
And as far as medals go, there will be a new total medal champion in 2022.
Russia took home 63 medals in the last World Games, the 2017 Games in Wroclaw, Poland – the most of any country that year. But Russian and Belarusian athletes were banned from the competition in Alabama after the invasion of Ukraine. That leaves 81 total medals from the last games up for grabs.
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The United States ranked inside the top 10, earning 22 total medals in 2017, including seven golds, 10 silvers and five bronzes. If you’re looking for the sports the U.S. performed well in back in 2017, athletes from here brought home golds in parachuting, women’s bowling, mixed ultimate frisbee, women’s double trampoline gymnastics, women’s lacrosse and women’s power lifting.
Birmingham will be the 11th host city in the 41 year history of the World Games, and just the second city in the United States to host the games. Santa Clara, California, was the site of the first ever World Games back in 1981, and since then a number of European and Asian cities – plus one South American city (Cali, Colombia) – have played host.
There will be plenty of places to watch games all over Birmingham. You can buy tickets for individual sports, by venue or purchase day passes to take in different sports on the same day. Most of Alabama’s well-known landmarks will be part of the Games, including Sloss Furnaces, the new Protective Stadium, Avondale Park, and many more.
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Finally, the Games are expected to create $256 million in economic impact for the city, according to estimates from the Birmingham World Games. That’s no small sum for a city like Birmingham. That money will flow through the cities restaurants, bars, hotels and more, as athletes, staff, spectators and more head to the Magic City to take in the action.
No. 1: American football
Despite being an invitational sport rather than an official one, American Football was the most popular sport during the Wroclaw World Games. It made up 12.4% of ticket sales, well ahead of the next closest event. Only four nations participated in 2017, including the United States, which managed a bronze medal.
Speaking of ticket sales, what should Birmingham expect there? Average ticketed attendance for each previous World Games, barring the first year and the wildly popular Cali Games in 2013, is around 146,000 tickets sold. Can Birmingham reach that mark?
Attendance has mostly trended upward for the World Games since 1981, though the numbers vary widely. Birmingham will be the second smallest city to host the Games in terms of population. The smallest was Lahti, Finland, which had around 96,000 residents in 1997, when it hosted the games. There were 93,000 tickets sold that year. Host cities have averaged roughly 32,000 ticketed spectators per 100,000 population. If that number held true for Birmingham the city could expect a ticketed attendance number of around 60,000. That’s just using the city population, though. The same metric used for the metro as a whole would see more than 300,000 tickets sold.