The eyes of the world are on Rio this week as thousands of athletes compete in the Olympics. And in 2021, Birmingham will welcome its own set of international athletes and the eyes of the world for the 11th annual World Games.
In anticipation, Birmingham is making plans for the massive event, with newly appointed chairman of the Birmingham World Games Foundation Jonathan Porter at the helm. Porter is vice president of the Birmingham Division for Alabama Power and is deeply committed to the Birmingham community, serving on multiple boards of directors including the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club, Jefferson County Education Foundation, Jefferson County Economic and Industrial Development Authority, Alabama Power Foundation and the Birmingham Business Alliance.
“We represent more than our city and more than our state; we represent the nation when the World Games come to Birmingham. It’s an incredible opportunity,” said Porter.
Porter succeeds Edgar Welden, who was instrumental in securing the bid for Birmingham from the International World Games Association. Welden began serving as co-chairman of the World Games 2021 along with Scott Myers, executive director of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, and David Benck .
Birmingham won the international bid in 2015 over finalists including Lima, Peru and Ufa, Russia. This will be the first time for the World Games in the United States since the inaugural event in Santa Clara, Calif., in 1981.
“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,” José Perurena, president of the World Games Association said after the January 2015 announcement.
“All the bids we received were of very high quality, and it was not easy for us to reach a decision. We have to deliver nothing less than outstanding World Games. We are convinced that Birmingham will exceed these expectations,” Perurena said.
World Games officials traveled to Birmingham in 2014 and were impressed with the united front of business and government leaders.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in the presence of so many distinguished CEOs at one time,” said Max Bishop, vice president of the World Games executive committee, during the gathering hosted by Alabama Power. “It is obvious Birmingham is making a very serious bid for the 2021 World Games. I’m always impressed in America how the corporate entities rally around to support the community.”
The multidisciplinary sporting event is organized by the International World Games Association under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee and is held every four years. Birmingham is in good company. The event has taken place in London; Karlsruhe, Germany; The Hague, Netherlands; Lahti, Finland; Akita, Japan; Duisburg, Germany; Kaohsiung, Taipei, Taiwan; and most recently in Cali, Colombia in 2013. More than 500,000 spectators attended the Cali games.
The 2021 World Games is expected to attract more than 4,000 athletes from more than 100 countries, creating an anticipated $256.5 million economic impact to the state.
The event consists of 35 sports, including crossover sports with the Olympics and non-Olympic sports such as canoe polo, finswimming, korfball, sport climbing and parachuting. Athletes, spectators and media from around the world will travel to 26 venues across the Birmingham metro area during the 11-day event to watch athletes compete.
“In addition to the sporting experience, there is an even broader impact the World Games will bring. It’s the connections; something sustainable for our city and our state,” said Porter.
Birmingham leaders are excited for both the economic and visibility opportunities from the World Games.
“We are going to make sure everyone has a tremendous experience when they travel to Birmingham and our state for this event. It’s the Southern hospitality we know we have – in culinary, lodging, accommodations, attractions. When people leave Birmingham, we want them to do business, talk about and live in Birmingham,” said Porter.
The next World Games are in Wroclaw, Poland in 2017. In the closing ceremony on July 30, 2017, the World Games flag will be officially handed over to representatives of Birmingham.
Looking ahead, Porter and the World Games Birmingham team will begin a multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign to prepare to host the games planned for July 15-25, 2021. Porter looks forward to the unifying effort of the entire city pitching in to host the world, citing the need for more than 4,000 volunteers during the event.
“The eyes of the world are going to be on Birmingham. We’ll be working together to make the World Games 2021 an event the world will not forget and that Birmingham will be proud of for years to come,” said Porter.
For more information about the World Games, visit www.theworldgames.org.