Birmingham Vies for World Games in 2021; Decision in January; Impact Could be $250 million

A vice president and general counsel for Business Council of Alabama member Hibbett Sports Inc. is part of the effort to land the 2021 World Games for Birmingham.

Birmingham attorney David Benck is among a number of Alabamians who are seeking the prestigious international games that are held every four years. He said in a recent interview that Birmingham has a chance to win the games when the decision is made after the International World Games Association meets in January.

The first of nine World Games was held in Santa Clara, Calif., in 1981, but none has been held in the United States since. The next World Games are scheduled for 2017 in Poland and then either in Birmingham, Lima, Peru, or Ufa, Russia, the other two applicants, in July 2021.

“It’s perfect timing,” said Benck, a BCA board member. “It’s the 40th anniversary of the games and also the 150th anniversary of the founding of the city of Birmingham.”

The World Games are under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee and feature competitive athletic events including archery, canoeing, sport climbing, outdoor roller sports, dance sports, men and women tug-of-war, martial arts, softball, handball, powerlifting, underwater sports, lacrosse, water skiing, bowling, sumo wrestling, racquetball, and lifesaving.

Benck and Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and Museum Executive Director Scott Myers visited the 2013 World Games in Cali, Colombia, that had 500,000 spectators. They saw not only the events but also behind-the-scenes operations to learn how the games are organized, staged, and most importantly, what venues would be required.

They returned and met with Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Chairman Edgar Welden, who is president of the World Games initiative.

The World Games 2021 Birmingham Foundation Inc. decided that the greater Birmingham area, with three colleges, has perfect sport locations and athlete and coach accommodations without having to build new ones, Benck said. “We felt even though it was a large undertaking that Birmingham could handle it,” Benck said.

Benck said Governor Robert Bentley, Birmingham Mayor William Bell, and the Birmingham City Council were supportive so the United States’ application featuring Birmingham was submitted in July. The bid was endorsed by the U.S. Olympic Committee. “We were able to get letters of support from essentially all the Unites States’ national governing bodies of sport,” Benck said.

The IWGA will visit Birmingham in October to look at facilities and the area, he said. “The facilities are already here, we wouldn’t need a single thing,” Benck said.

He said the World Games 2021 Birmingham Foundation Inc.’s vision is to use accommodations and athletic venues of Birmingham-Southern College, Samford University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in conjunction with the city’s venues.

Two studies show that the economic impact of the World Games could be upwards of $250 million.

And then there’s the international exposure, since more than 100 countries send athletes to the World Games that are televised worldwide. “It’s great exposure for the city internationally and it could lead to other things,” Benck said.

-Dana Beyerle