Birmingham Games set to challenge British colonialism, celebrate diversity

London: Duran Duran, the Brummie accent and a celebration of a century-old crime gang will showcase the cultural heritage of British city of Birmingham through sport to the world over the next fortnight.

The UK’s second biggest and most diverse city will play host to the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games at the 30,000-capacity Alexander Stadium on Friday morning (AEST), featuring some of the Midlands’ finest exports.

A view of the Alexander Stadium, Birmingham.

Steven Knight, creator of the worldwide hit Peaky Blinders TV series, is executive producer for the ceremony, which is the biggest of its kind since Danny Boyle’s acclaimed opening of the London 2012 Olympics a decade ago.

He said that while the opening ceremony would be “visually spectacular” it would also “tell a story with emotion and heart”.

Speaking at a press briefing ahead of the event, Knight said: “A lot of times I think people are afraid to take a stance, afraid to make a point, that they’re believing that they’ve got to please all of the people all the time.”

“The Birmingham story is the story of the common people and it always has been and that’s what this story is, you know, and the things that Birmingham has given to the world such as electricity, technology, English-speaking drama from William Shakespeare 20 miles down the road.”

Simon Le Bon said he was “honoured” to play the homecoming gig with Duran Duran, which formed in Birmingham in 1978 and went on to become leading figures of the 1980s new romantic scene with hits like Hungry Like the Wolf, Girls on Film and Rio.

Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath and Soweto Kinch, the saxophonist and rapper, will also perform along with by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and a 700-strong choir.

Broadcast to a potential TV and online audience of a billion people, the ceremony is expected to confront Britain’s colonial past, celebrate the racial diversity of modern England, and the treatment of LGBTQI athletes around the Commonwealth.

Theatre director Iqbal Khan, the ceremony’s artistic director, said he had been “100 per cent aware of the Commonwealth’s problematic history” when putting together the show, which tells an “immersive” story of the West Midlands through the eyes of 72 young athletes.

Batonbearer Heidi Rhodes James holds the Queen’s Baton during the Birmingham 2022 Queen’s Baton Relay.Credit:Getty

He added that he would approach issues of colonialism and slavery by “not ignoring it” and by dramatising something of friction and a history of trauma.

“But also it’s a history of resilience and an embrace of a new way that those people informed. So I think ultimately it’s a challenging story to tell, but it’s a really positive story to tell.”

The Birmingham twang, known as Brummie, is also set to dominate the public address system. Organisers have said it would have been remiss not to put the distinctive monotone burr with a downward intonation at the end of most sentences at the heart of events.

Maeve Clarke, the novelist who has written the opening ceremony, said the accent was “part of who we are”.

Prince Charles, accompanied by Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, will represent the Queen at the ceremony, to officially declare the Games open. He will again deliver a speech, including his mother’s message to athletes which has travelled around the Commonwealth in The Queen’s Baton Relay. The ceremony is also expected to pay tribute to the late Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh who opened the event six times as president of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

The closing ceremony 11 days later is expected to include a homage to Peaky Blinders, the second most-watched program worldwide on Netflix, and will feature a “jukebox” of great Birmingham musical acts, including UB40.

The British reggae group has composed and performed the official song of the Games, titled Champion. It stays true to the veteran reggae band’s sound, with its bobbing basslines and triumphant horns.

The lyrics are aspirational, with a chorus urging people to band together and seize the day: “if you’ve taken on the best and you’ve risen to the test, you could be the number one champion.”

Duran Duran formed in Birmingham in 1978.Credit:Amy Harris/Invision/AP

The track also features an appearance by Birmingham rappers Dapz on the Map and Gilly G.

But avoiding COVID-19 is also expect to be major consideration for athletes, including the Australian cricketers.

T20 women’s cricket will make its Games debut and it will be only the second time the sport has been played in the event, following the men’s 50-overs tournament in 1998.

The opening ceremony will not finish until about 10.30pm on Thursday local time, with and Australia start their Games campaign the next morning at 11am.

Their game against India is expected to attract a massive crowd at Edgbaston.

“That’s a work in progress. There have been some discussions around that and we haven’t reached a spot on that yet,” Australian coach Shelley Nitschke said of the opening ceremony.

Khan said it has been “an unbelievable honour” to guide the artistic direction for the opening ceremony.

“Since setting out on this journey, I wanted to tell Birmingham’s story and I wanted to tell it right – to show that there is a vivid and vibrant confidence about this place,” Khan, who worked alongside rapper Joshua “RTKal” Holness on the ceremony’s soundtrack, said.

“It’s the music of this city that truly gives it its voice, and this stunning line-up will connect with a global audience, as we celebrate the best of Birmingham creativity on an international stage.”

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