With SportAccord’s World Sport & Business Summit taking place in Birmingham’s International Convention Centre this week, Access hears from organisers about why Birmingham was chosen and how the event will build on the city’s Commonwealth Games legacy.

Fresh from its hosting of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, Birmingham and the West Midlands is set to welcome more than 1,500 global sports leaders and key decision makers to the SportAccord World Sport & Business Summit.

SportAccord managing director Martin Gibbs, who was appointed in 2022, just before the organisation began conversations with Birmingham, says the city was the perfect fit due to its centrality and ease of access for European delegates, along with its desire to build on the Commonwealth Games legacy.

Says Gibbs, “The obvious central strand to that legacy is building a pipeline of sporting events. There is no better way of doing that than bringing all the international delegations and rightsholders into the city, so you’ve got them there for several days to discuss where they are going to hold their events.”

SportAccord, headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, is returning in-person following a four-year hiatus due to the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war. Gibbs says the summit’s return will fill a gap that no other event in the market is able to fill: “There is nowhere else that you will see so many presidents, secretary generals and senior managers of international federations in one place, along with the IOC and all the sports business leaders around them. It is unique.”

As for the difference between the Gold Coast edition and this year’s event, Gibbs says, “There are things we change at the event because of where we are. We want people to come to SportAccord and it be recognisable to them, but we also want people to experience the local environment and culture.

“Being right in the centre of Birmingham is a real plus. The cultural programme that’s built around the event that will give them that taste of Birmingham and the West Midlands. It will be good to see a city based on manufacturing that’s modernised itself, but one where you can still feel the past.”

Although still early days, the positive impact of the Commonwealth Games is tangible in the UK’s second city. The West Midlands welcomed 141.2 million visitors in 2022, topping the previous record set before the pandemic, thanks to major events including the Commonwealth Games. The figures represented a 38% increase in tourist numbers in 2021, and a 5% rise compared to 2019 data, which was the last research to be carried out before the tourist industry was impacted by the pandemic.

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An independent interim evaluation report also found that the West Midlands economy received a significant boost, with more than half the economic impact generated (£453.7m) benefiting businesses and communities across the region.

“We’ve put ourselves on the map for being a world class host for major events.”

Birmingham 2022 also created 9,000 full-time equivalent jobs in 2022, with volunteers taking up 1.25 million hours of work. On a wider scale, the report found that the event contributed at least £870m to the UK economy.

Maya Ladwa, senior executive – major sporting events at West Midlands Growth Company (WMGC), says the aim is to highlight not just Birmingham but the other six local authorities – Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

“We’ve put ourselves on the map for being a world class host for major events,” says Ladwa. “Right in the heart of the UK, Birmingham and the West Midlands is such a strong proposition because of its connectivity, world-class venues, and our large and diverse population with a passion for attending sporting events. Over many years, including most recently hosting a successful Commonwealth Games, we have developed the expertise and ability to stage internationally significant sporting and entertainment events.

“It was important for us to build a relationship with international federations, especially those that align with our strategy. We’re a young and diverse region and we want to attract those types of sporting events.”

The summit was funded through the £60m of Birmingham 2022 underspend, backed by DCMS and the West Midlands Combined Authority, which has also gone towards other upcoming sporting events in the city. These include the Kabaddi World Cup, a popular South Asian sport which will come to Wolverhampton in March, along with a new ice rink to be built in Dudley.

Ladwa adds that the region being easily accessible yet significantly cheaper than cities such as London is a pull: “People are taking us more seriously as a destination to host events now. We’re getting approached by all sorts of organisations to bring their events here from other parts of the UK, which is exciting because the region has always been a bit of an underdog in the industry and now, we’re at the top of it.”

Those involved in the  summit say the aim is to create an ‘event village’ type of environment which was seen during the Commonwealth Games. The close proximity of the ICC and its surrounding hotels will also remove the need for extra travel arrangements and will add to the event’s sustainable credentials.

The ICC’s owners, The NEC Group, is no stranger to hosting sporting events at Birmingham’s two arenas, Resorts World Arena (cap. 15,685) and Utilita Arena (15,800), including the FIG Trampoline Gymnastics World Championships and the Badminton World Championships. The ICC also hosted the first edition of The Commonwealth Esports Championships during the time of the Games.

NEC Group Conventions general manager Allan Boyle says the venue has been working in partnership with the WMGC for around 16 months on the summit: “Hosting the event will be a pretty straightforward operation but it’s obviously got the prestige around it, therefore the meticulous planning in the early days plays through to the execution of the event.”

Looking beyond the event, Ladwa says there is a possibility of the region hosting the biggest sporting event in the world someday. The Gold Coast won the bid to host the 2032 Olympic Games two years after hosting the summit in 2019, and Ladwa sees no reason why the West Midlands cannot follow suit.

“We will have the IOC in town and they will be able to see the amazing venues and hotels we have in the city. It’s definitely an option for the future.”

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, says, “If we want to keep hosting the world’s biggest sporting events then showcasing our region to sport’s global decision makers is mission critical. That’s why this SportAccord conference is so important – and why I’m delighted we’ve been able to pull it off.

“There is no question just what a major coup this is for the West Midlands.”

“There is no question just what a major coup this is for the West Midlands, and we now must ensure we make the most of the opportunity and use it as a springboard for our future.”

 The Power of Sport

 Leading experts will address some of the biggest challenges and opportunities in global sport at the International Convention Centre under the theme of ‘The Power of Sport’.

Topics include the way AI will shape the sporting landscape, the influence gaming and e-sports have already had and lessons to learn from the commercially successful North American Leagues. Challenges to be addressed include online abuse in sport and wider expert discussions will centre around international sports diplomacy at a difficult time on the global stage.

The speaker lineup across the summit’s Plenary Session and four streams – CityAccord, LawAccord, HealthAccord and MediaAccord – includes Chris Boardman MBE, Olympic gold medallist and world champion cyclist, and now chair of Sport England and commissioner of Active Travel England.

Boardman is joined by six experts who operate in various sectors of the global sports landscape. The experts, spanning host cities, Esports, sports medicine, sustainability, and athlete representation, will lead sessions centered around the transformative impact of sport on society. They include Melanie Duparc, secretary general of World Union of Olympic Cities; Paul Foster, CEO of Global Esports Federation; Dr Margo Mountjoy, clinical professor and sports medicine specialist, chair of ASOIF Medical and Science Consultative Group; Dale Vince, chairman of Forest Green Rovers and founder/owner of Ecotricity; Ross Wenzel, WADA general counsel; and Brendan Schwab, director of Schwab Legal and former executive director of World Players Association.