By Barnett Wright and Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
The World Games 2022 (TWG 2022) kicked off Thursday in Birmingham’s Protective Stadium featuring more than 3,600 athletes who will participate in dozens of events including sumo wrestling, gymnastics, martial arts and tug of war.
The opening ceremonies began 10 days of competition around the metro area in nearly 40 sports with participants from about 100 nations.
The 11th edition of TWG 2022 is taking place at various venues across the Birmingham metro area—including Protective Stadium, which was filled Thursday night with fans from around the globe, Legion Field, the Birmingham CrossPlex and the Hoover Met Complex.
Preceded by the entrance of hundreds of representatives of countries all over the world and multiple celebratory musical performances, Mayor Randall Woodfin declared the opening of The Games at Protective Stadium.
“It’s only right that the city that taught the world acceptance and freedom be the stage for this historic event, an event that brings 3,600 athletes and scores more visitors from dozens of countries to our great city, an event that will bridge cultural divides and forge new friendships,” Woodfin said in the stadium.
The world has seen much division in recent years, “from a global pandemic, to political strife, to social unrest,” the mayor said.
“But as I look out into this crowd, I see a reflection of what the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth marched for, what Mayor Richard Arrington broke barriers to achieve, what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King dreamed of. What I see is a world united, and right here in Birmingham, this is our ancestors’ greatest dreams,” Woodfin said.
During the Parade of Athletes, the country of Ukraine received a rousing ovation, second only to the United States.
2022 is the first year The World Games has been hosted in the United States since the inaugural series of athletic competitions in Santa Clara, California in 1981. Birmingham was first selected as a host city in 2015, and the Games were set to be played in 2021 but delayed a year because of the pandemic.
Some competitions already have been held. Hundreds of people turned out in Oxford, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) east of Birmingham, for exhibition games between the USA Softball Women’s National Team, Team Australia and Team Japan.
Some streets in downtown Birmingham have been shut down for security, but the city also has added new features, including Citywalk BHAM, a park constructed beneath the rebuilt Interstate 20/59. Most athletes are being housed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham or Birmingham-Southern College.
Earlier Thursday, Woodfin said, “It’s fitting that these Games are in Birmingham, a city that has a history of fighting for change and with so much divisive things going on around the world right now. It’s fitting for us to welcome the world to the games here in Birmingham.”