With Joelle King and Amanda Landers-Murphy embracing on the squash court and Aaron Gate gripping the New Zealand flag, a historic campaign in Birmingham came to a close for New Zealand.
And what a games it was – not just for Aotearoa but for the Commonwealth itself.
Heading into them there were questions about the Friendly Games that weren’t so kind for organisers.
Was it safe given Covid’s presence still lingering in the world? Could Birmingham handle the pressures of hosting despite only building one new venue – the aquatics centre – for the 4,500 athletes arriving on their doorstep? Are the Commonwealth Games still relevant?
To put it simply from someone lucky enough to experience these Games in person – yes, yes and yes.
Sure, there were hiccups – public transport, especially for media, was a bit of a struggle and often left us simply calling for an Uber [a unique experience given some events had us cramming into a Prius with a crew of four people as well as a camera, laptops and other required reporting gear] and there were a couple of questionable calls from officials early on such as the triathlon but on the whole Birmingham 2022 delivered on everything it set out to and more.
For one, being a sport reporter coming from a place where up until a few months ago we’d forgotten what the sound of a crowd was, to being surrounded daily by packed-out arenas and passionate fans supporting every athlete – not just their own – was enough to warm one’s heart if the UK heat somehow wasn’t doing so.
Volunteers were aplenty at every venue and 99 per cent of them appeared to be loving their role in the Games, getting high fives from young fans and taking photos or videos for whatever social media platform is the buzz these days.
And then there were the venues themselves; most of them were already there before the games such as Birmingham Arena for the gymnastics or the squash and hockey complexes at the city’s university.
Birmingham organisers stated prior to the games they were making every effort to leave a “carbon neutral legacy” and a major part of that was keeping the creation of new venues – something host cities of major sporting events have done exuberantly in the past – to a minimum.
Most venues were given small upgrades to accommodate the grand events they were hosting but the thought of knowing they will continue to be part of everyday life in Birmingham given almost haunting images from deteriorating or all together abandoned venues at places as recent as the Rio Olympics is a refreshing thought.
Not to mention the superb use of the National Event Centre [NEC] out near the international airport allowed supporters to potentially watch weightlifting, table tennis, boxing, badminton and netball all in a single day if they planned their movements out well enough in the giant complex usually reserved for trade expos and the like.
Sports that didn’t have a ready-made home, such as the basketball and beach volleyball, were given temporary ones made of impressive scaffolding that will all be taken down once the crowds disappear too allowing the usual farmers markets and other community activities to return again.
It proves big spending isn’t needed to host such events and sustainable options are there with the right planning. New Zealand officials, are we taking notes?
New Zealand had its most successful Games in history with 20 gold medals in Birmingham, surpassing the previous mark of 17 set by the 1990 team where the event was on home soil in Auckland.
Imagine how well the team could do if the Games came back to Aotearoa?
Australia have committed to hosting the Games again in 2026 having just had them in 2018. But unlike the Gold Coast four years ago, the next Commonwealth Games will be hosted by Victoria as a state in a first for the multi-sport event.
A total of five cities and regions are set to play a role in the 2026 Commonwealth Games after Victoria were officially confirmed as the host earlier this year with a pitch that once again highlighted the use of already established venues while also getting to showcase the culture of Victoria as a state.
Surely a similar pitch could be made for New Zealand?
Imagine Hayden Wilde contesting a triathlon gold at Lake Taupo then days later the New Zealand Sevens teams beginning their campaigns in Hamilton; judo and wrestling could chase more medals further north at Auckland's Spark Arena while up the road the White Ferns face Australia at Eden Park.
And don’t even get me started on our track cycling team racing at the Grassroots Trust Velodrome just outside Hamilton or the ILT Velodrome in Invercargill.
Will some venues need small upgrades like Birmingham did? Of course. That’s part of the responsibility of being a host.
But those small costs can be quickly repaid by the thousands of fans coming to our shores and then potentially staying on to enjoy our hospitality and tourism industries who are so eager for more arrivals at the airport.
It’s all there for the taking – we just have to be like the 2022 New Zealand Team and go for gold.