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Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:35 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 4:35 pm, 3rd February 2020

My Lords, the Commonwealth is a wonderful voluntary organisation. It is an institution now made up of 54 countries following the great news that the Maldives rejoined the Commonwealth on 1 February, one hour after we left the European Union.

Of course, CHOGM—the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which takes place regularly—is a big event in the Commonwealth calendar, as are the Commonwealth Games, which take place every four years and bring together the community, or family, of the 72 nations and territories of the Commonwealth. They are hugely important to the host city, which is Birmingham in this case, the host country, which is the UK in this case, and the whole Commonwealth, which is made up of 2.4 billion people—more than a third of the world’s population. Let us put this in perspective: trade with the Commonwealth makes up less than 10% of the UK’s trade; 50% of it is with the EU and 18% is with the United States.

The Commonwealth Games Federation and its chief executive, David Grevemberg, produced an excellent report, entitled Commonwealth Sport: Transformation 2022 Refresh. It talks about the federation’s

“refreshed vision, mission, values and strategic priorities” for the Commonwealth Games leading up to 2022. It talks about a “refresh process” and states:

“This has to be more about a Movement than a Federation … It’s our commitment to inclusion and equality that sets us apart.”

It talks about progress to date, as has been mentioned, and states:

Gold Coast 2018 provided a $2.5 billion economic boost to the state”.

It talks about the federation’s strengths and states:

“Commonwealth Sport builds upon its history: 21 Games and 6 Youth Games since 1930”.

That is tremendous. It states that this is the federation’s mission:

“Delivering inspirational sporting moments … Nurturing a powerful sporting movement … Activating transformational partnerships … Realising our collective impact”.

The work done in these Games goes far beyond the values of “humanity, equality and destiny” referred to in the report. It is about delivering on that mission. That is what these Games are all about.

The most important thing is that the Commonwealth athletes who will participate—as has been mentioned, there are more than 6,000 of them—are, as the report states,

“Inspiring Leaders … Agents of Change … Advocates for Integrity … Ambassadors for Respect, Impartiality and Non-Discrimination”.

The report states:

“To Commonwealth Athletes, sport is more than just competition. Sport is just the beginning. Sport connects them – and all of us – with dreams, goals and aspirations for ourselves, our families and our communities.”

A Birmingham 2022 report states the key facts, some of which we have heard:

“Birmingham and the West Midlands region will benefit from” almost £800 million—more than $1 billion—

“of sport investment - the biggest investment since London 2012 … A brand new aquatics centre, a redeveloped athletics stadium and 1,400 new homes … a global audience of 1.5 billion to showcase Birmingham and the West Midlands to the rest of the world … Over 1 million tickets … 19 sports”,

which we will come on to later. It also states that

“8 fully integrated para events will feature across 11 days … the first integrated and biggest ever para sports offering.”

It also states, as the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, said, that the Games have potential

“for more female medals than male, this would be a first for any major multi sports event” in history. It also refers to approximately

“41,000 Games-time roles, including 10,000 trained volunteers”.

It goes on. A Birmingham City Council members’ update reports that the council is putting in huge work with the

“Perry Barr Interchange … Sandwell Aquatics Centre … Alexander StadiumCommunity Engagement”.

Again, as the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, mentioned, the community champions will also be engaged.

I am the proud chancellor of the University of Birmingham, and we are delighted to be playing a major role in these Games. In 2017, Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, opened our state-of-the-art £55 million sports centre with Birmingham’s first 50-metre swimming pool. The University of Birmingham will host the squash and hockey events, as well as providing volunteers, while the facilities will be used by athletes from around the world. Birmingham is the country’s first civic university, and we have a civic university agreement which will make us the West Midlands’ go-to centre.

The West Midlands Growth Company has been tasked by the West Midlands Combined Authority to develop a programme of tourism, trade and investment activity to maximise the benefits of the Commonwealth Games for the region and the UK.

As well as the squash and hockey events, the Commonwealth Games will also use Birmingham University’s facilities, including the pool and the track, for pre-Games training in the camp. As I say, our students will volunteer and there will be education and academic programmes as well as career engagements for student work experience, industry placements, summer internships and volunteering activities. All of this is phenomenal. Of course, there is the whole cultural aspect, including a 22-day festival of sport and culture made up of 11 days of sport followed by 11 days of culture.

Let us not forget the academic powerhouse of the UK as a country, with 1% of the world’s population producing 16% of the world’s leading research papers. This will mark a huge opportunity for the university research effort, headed by Professor Tim Softley, who will be engaged to identify further research opportunities to link up our academic strengths with interests in the Games.

I welcome the Bill. The original version was welcomed by the chair of the Birmingham 2022 organising committee, John Crabtree, by the Labour leader of Birmingham City Council, Ian Ward, my friend Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, and by the chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, David Grevemberg.

We must remember that the Commonwealth Games Federation is responsible for this multi-sport event. In 2015, it awarded the 2022 Games to Durban in South Africa, which would have been the first time that the Games had taken place in Africa, but that was withdrawn in March 2017. In December 2017, the Games were awarded to Birmingham. Birmingham has won the Games, but it has a shorter time to prepare for them than would normally be given to a country, so it is a huge challenge. Given the public investment which we have heard about in the debate, with 75% of the funding coming from central government and 25% from Birmingham, I am grateful to them both for that support.

However, there is one issue which has been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. Most people do not realise this, but shooting is an optional sport which can be included in the Commonwealth Games. Birmingham has decided to leave shooting and archery out, making this only the second time ever that shooting has been left out. Shooting is very important to countries like India, which makes up more than half of the population of the Commonwealth—at 1.3 billion out of 2.4 billion. India has now overtaken the United Kingdom as the fifth largest economy in the world. It is an emerging and growing global economic superpower and is now by far the biggest economy in the Commonwealth as well as being one of the biggest economies in the world.

India’s participation in the Commonwealth at every level is fundamental, and yet for a long time there was the potential that, if shooting was excluded, India would boycott the Games. I have been in regular touch with the chief executive officer for the organising committee, Ian Reid, as well as with the chairman, John Crabtree. Last November, a delegation from the Commonwealth Games Federation headed by Dame Louise Martin, already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and the chief executive, David Grevemberg, made a hugely constructive visit to India. As a result, the federation members could see at first hand the legacy of the Commonwealth Games which were held in Delhi in 2010 and they were able to prevent India from boycotting these Games, so India will be participating in 2022.

However, a solution for the shooting events still needs to be found. This is supported by the Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports in India, Kiren Rijiju, the president of the National Rifle Association of India and the vice-president of the International Shooting Sport Federation, His Highness Crown Prince Raninder Singh of Patiala, the secretary of the India Olympic Association, Rajeev Mehta, and the IOA president, Narinder Batra, who are all very keen to see shooting be included in the Games. The host country, the UK—comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—wins lots of medals in shooting events. The sport enables smaller countries and territories such as the Falkland Islands to participate in the Games at all. Moreover, shooting is a sport that encompasses all ages, from teenagers to senior middle-aged people, and it is gender inclusive.

In December 2019, a meeting took place between the Commonwealth Games Federation and the ISSF in Berlin at which a very innovative solution was put forward by India. This was based on the vision statement of the Commonwealth Games, among other things, desiring the future of the Games to be inclusive, cost effective and empowering local communities through the power of sport—a truly friendly Games. The Indian bid meets the demand of all these points by suggesting an innovative and what it considers path-breaking proposal that, I hope the Minister will agree, will ensure that shooting—a major Olympic sport—can be effectively, technically and cost-effectively held in another country in future if a host country cannot hold it. I am delighted with this innovative and creative solution, which was officially put forward in Munich, whereby India will host shooting and archery and the actual Games will be in Birmingham. These events would take place in association with the Commonwealth Games as part of the overall Commonwealth Games, with—as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said—the medals included in the total tally. I have seen the detailed proposal put forward by India, whereby India will organise a shooting competition conforming strictly to the rules, with all the results officially recognised globally, and will fund the competition, including bringing the athletes from all over the Commonwealth and hosting them.

Shooting is important to India—more than 25% of medals won by India in previous Commonwealth Games have been in shooting—but, as I have mentioned, it is similarly important, for a number of reasons, for the medal tallies of many other countries, including us here in the United Kingdom. From an accessibility point of view, shooting is one of the handful of highest-participation sports in the Commonwealth Games. As I said earlier, it enables tiny countries such as the Falkland Islands to participate in the Games and is also inclusive in that men and women compete in mixed competitions and in the age spectrum, from teenagers to middle-aged participants.

Beyond these advantages of including shooting, holding the competition in India has huge additional advantages. As I said, India is by far the largest country in the Commonwealth; its 1.3 billion people make up more than half the population of the Commonwealth. The Indian economy continues to grow and is predicted to be the third largest in the world very soon. India’s importance for the Commonwealth is therefore hugely disproportionate to other countries’ and to have India onside in future as a committed member of the Commonwealth family is paramount. In my opinion, if India had boycotted the Games, it could have threatened the very existence of the Commonwealth. Given that the Games are being hosted in the UK, the fact that it is India coming to the rescue when it comes to shooting will only help build the bridges that already exist between the UK and India.

From my various roles, including as founding chairman of the UK India Business Council, I would say that Britain has a special relationship with the United States and India more than with any other countries in the world. The excellent Transformation 2022 Refresh report says the impact of the Commonwealth Games goes well beyond sport itself:

“Sport is just the beginning.”

So many positive messages would be sent out by holding the shooting and archery competitions in India. It shows the Commonwealth family coming together in a positive way to resolve a predicament. It shows how Commonwealth countries work in partnership. It sets the precedent of a flexible approach in which host countries that may not have the ability to fund the full range of sports can hold the vast majority of the Games but partner with other Commonwealth countries to host sports they cannot afford or practically host.

It gives a huge opportunity for the Games to be an anchor and catalyst for many other bilateral engagements between the UK and India, including in education. With Birmingham one of the five largest universities in the UK and in the top 100 in the world, we will not only be proud to host part of the Games but will be at the centre of the Games. The Midlands is the home of one of the largest Indian-origin populations in the UK, with large numbers coming from north India and Punjab. If the shooting competitions were held in Delhi or Chandigarh, this would build on the living bridge that exists between our two countries—including between the two specific regions in the two countries. The University of the Punjab collaborates with the University of Birmingham on research. The statistics show that the field-weighted impact for collaborative research between the universities of Birmingham and the Punjab is more than double the universities’ individual scores and almost equal to the field-weighted impact of research conducted between the University of Birmingham and Harvard University. Holding shooting will also be a huge help to businesses.

These events would be held in association with the Games, but the medals must be included within the Games. Given technology and social media, shooting competitions can be broadcast live on the internet, and there could be a venue in Birmingham with people watching the competitions live. I know India will put on very impressive opening and closing ceremonies for the shooting part of the Games as well.

This is a truly win-win solution to what was a potentially disastrous situation. Will the Minister please confirm that the Government will support this Indian solution to this predicament? The meeting of the CGF taking place on 21 and 22 February will make that final decision. Will the Government support this? As the Transformation 2022 Refresh report said:

“Sport is just the beginning.”