“It’s the equivalent of a Super Bowl,” said Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Patrick Davis, who is coordinating federal security for the event. “Expect a great experience once you arrive.”
More than 13,000 foreign visitors - including the athletes - from about 40 countries are converging on Birmingham this week, according to an FBI memo on the event, arriving at the Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport, filling up the host Sheraton and Westin hotels in Uptown and other accommodations around the city.
More than 350,000 tickets have been sold to customers from around the world to 34 different sport competitions taking place at about 20 venues over 11 days, from this weekend through July 17.
The World Games, an Olympic-style athletic competition that includes many sports not in the Summer Olympics, will feature participation from about 3,600 athletes, all competing for gold, silver and bronze medals. Not nearly as old as the Olympics, the World Games had its first competition in California in 1981 and is held the year after the Summer Olympics. Because of the pandemic, both the Olympics and the World Games were pushed back a year.
Although Birmingham is the host city, the competition will take place in 14 different venue clusters in the metro area, including Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, the Hoover Met, and Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds.
“This is the City of Birmingham’s show, but we’re playing a role as supporting actors,” said Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato. “We’re working very hard to make sure that Birmingham gets all the support they need.”
The opening ceremony was held Thursday night at Protective Stadium. The stadium will also host the closing ceremony on July 17.
“It’s going to be a special time in our city to see all these athletes coming in, in a global television broadcast through the Olympic Channel and CBS domestically,” Sellers said. “It’s going to be an emotional moment.”
American military hero Noah Galloway, an honorary co-chair, and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin carried in the American flag and the World Games flag into the opening ceremony. Grammy winner Yolanda Adams sang the national anthem.
Law enforcement agencies will be enforcing a security zone that that will be in effect through July 17. That will include security barriers and street closures in the area from Protective Life Stadium to Boutwell Auditorium.
The World Games was granted a level-one special event assessment rating by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the same level granted to the Super Bowl. That means it will be treated as a high-risk event with federal officers helping to secure the area.
“The security rating that we have with the Department of Homeland Security obviously comes with a lot of great benefits,” Sellers said. “This is going to be very safe coming in and out for families. But with those benefits there are some burdens. The burden is, for instance, around the BJCC and Protective and Uptown and Boutwell and World Games Plaza, you generally will not be able to park within four blocks of that.”
The World Games Plaza occupies the new City Walk, a 1.5 mile linear park that stretches from 15th Street North to 25th Street North under the Interstate 59/20 overpasses. There will be concerts on stages at the City Walk and a variety of activities at the hub through the games.
“We’re going to make it very family-friendly and fan-friendly,” Sellers said.
Among the storylines coming into the games, University of Alabama softball heroes Haylie McCleney and Montana Fouts will lead Team USA softball in competition at the Hoover Met.
Brasfield & Gorrie and Hoar Program Management were lead partners on the construction of venues.
The challenge was to “make it look like an Olympic-level type of venue for these sport competitions, and then building it out and removing everything after the competition is over,” Sellers said.
It was a logistical jigsaw puzzle that had to be assembled.
“We’ve got a lot of great partners, from the Bruno Event Team, to the City of Birmingham, the City of Hoover and so many others that are helping us,” Sellers said. “Even the experts say, ‘We’ve never done anything like this before.’”
Community spirit has played a pivotal role in hosting the games.
“We’ve got over 3,000 volunteers who have signed up,” Sellers said. “It’s a Herculean effort to ensure that we’ve got, for 11 days, all of these venues across greater Birmingham area covered. We’ve not undertaken anything like this in the history of our city, where you’ve got all of these various venues with sport competitions going on, virtually at the same time.”