Sport and the Commonwealth Games: a unifying force

University Of Birmingham Alumnus President Hakainde Hichilema Of Zambia Receiving The Birmingham 2022 Queen's Relay Baton High Res
Robin Mason Headshot
Professor Robin Mason

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) at the University of Birmingham, UK 

ACU Member the University of Birmingham is an Official Partner of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. In this blog, Professor Robin Mason, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) outlines the significance of the Commonwealth Games and the power of sport to unify and inspire.

Sport is a powerful unifying force and international competition brings people together from around the globe, whether they are athletes competing at the peak of their physical prowess or spectators cheering on their country’s sporting heroes.

Global sports events such as the Commonwealth Games generate a significant amount of civic pride in their host cities and nations. The gathering of athletes to compete for sport’s most prestigious prizes has a halo effect on the city that welcomes them that endures beyond the closing ceremony.

The University of Birmingham is both a civic university and a global institution, and as such is well placed to partner with the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. We are looking forward to playing a pivotal part in delivering a successful Games for our home city and the wider West Midlands region.

Our Commonwealth connections are deep and wide-ranging:

  • 1,460 students from the Commonwealth study at Birmingham
  • 21,222 alumni from Commonwealth countries form part of our global graduate community
  • 302 members of staff come from Commonwealth countries
  • Between 2018 and 2021, we collaborated with over 540 institutions from across the Commonwealth and co-authored 3,660 research papers

We are a university with a long and proud track record of sporting success with staff, students and alumni competing at an international level. Ranked in the top seven of UK university sport, we are as much about participation and finding the joy in sport, as well as fostering future international elite competitors.

Sport has been part of our story since we launched the first Sport and Exercise Science degree in 1946. We now have excellent sport and fitness facilities, along with our own dedicated athletics track, and will host every match in the Games’ hockey and squash competitions. We will also provide the principal athletes’ village.

Our facilities may be world-class, but so are the people who work and study at Birmingham - it’s our athletics talent past and present who are the real game-changers.

There’s alumnus and Head of University of Birmingham Athletics Luke Gunn, who following a long and illustrious career, has turned his focus to coaching and mentoring others. Former international heptathlete Jade Surman is now a University athletics coach. Biochemistry alumna Hannah England is a World Championship 1500m silver medallist, and has now returned to where it all started, joining UB Sport & Fitness as Sport Scholarship Officer.

Our current students and alumni are flying the flag for sport at Birmingham. Dental student and women’s rugby union player Laura Keates has more than 60 caps for England. Rising high jump star and current student Laura Zialor trains at the University and keeps reaching for new heights while studying BSc Sports, Physical Education and Coaching Science. The Games also create volunteering opportunities for staff and students, where they can gain valuable experience of working at a major sports event.

But it’s not just our athletics talent who are game-changers. The Games represents an important opportunity for us to showcase our impressive teaching and research capabilities to a global TV audience of 1.5 billion – not to mention more than one million spectators, and competitors from 72 nations and territories. As Official Partner of the Queen’s Baton Relay - International Sector, we benefit from countless opportunities to promote the city, region and University as the ceremonial Baton travels through Commonwealth nations and territories in the build up to the Games. We are organising a range of events to mark The Queen’s Baton Relay’s visits to countries where we have a particularly strong research and education connection – Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia, Nigeria and Singapore. We’d love ACU members to contribute to these events.

Our environmental scientists, led by Professor Francis Pope, have helped to create cutting-edge technology for the Baton as it carries the Queen’s message around the world. Forged in the West Midlands, the Baton contains atmospheric sensors that analyse environmental conditions wherever it is on its 294-day journey. Data captured will contribute to our global project to understand better air quality and city resilience.

The University of Birmingham carries out world-leading research and our researchers’ expertise is of direct relevance to the Games. We are experts in sport participation and performance at every level—from young children to elite athletes our researchers are advancing knowledge on sport for health, performance, social missions and policy. We are also supporting British teams through our sports and research expertise.

Supporting the Games allows us to contribute to the growth and success of our city and region, but also allows us to tell our research story to the world, for example, revealing how:

  • Exercise can prevent our immune systems from ageing;
  • We detect concussion using the saliva of elite sportspeople;
  • Doping prevention should be about morality, not just health;
  • Social media can be used as a force for good among young people exercising;
  • Elite sports training programmes can contribute to mental health and resilience among young, homeless people; and
  • Air quality has an impact on athletic performance.

We are also supporting young people and academics through education and research opportunities. Our Birmingham Commonwealth Scholarships support students from the Commonwealth to study here. There are also opportunities for Early Career Researchers in Commonwealth countries to take part in our Visiting Fellows scheme in 2022. Through our Institute for Global Innovation, we have established the Forum for Global Challenges, a solutions-focused international conference, events series and dialogue. Delivered in partnership with the World Bank, UNESCO, UNDP, the Confederation of British Industry, and ACU, the Forum culminates in a major event ahead of the Games (3-5 May 2022) uniting academics, policymakers, practitioners, private sector, civil society and public to address the key themes of climate change and inequalities.

Sport is, indeed, a unifying force and the University of Birmingham is committed to playing a key role in delivering an outstanding international sporting event that focusses the eyes of the world on our city and region, as well as our university’s world-leading reputation for excellence. We invite you to join us on our global journey.

Image (top): University of Birmingham Alumnus President Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia receiving the Birmingham 2022 Queen's Relay Baton

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