The door to Birmingham is officially opened to the world.

More than 3,600 athletes from over 100 countries are in town to compete in the 11th edition of the World Games over the next two weeks. Since Santa Clara, Calif. hosted the inaugural World Games in 1981, it hasn’t been held in an U.S. city until now. Planning began about the same time the most recent World Games ended in July of 2017 in Wroclaw, Poland.

“It’s kind of a big deal,” said World Games 2022 CEO Nick Sellers.

See also: Spectators encouraged to arrive early for World Games Opening Ceremony

For Birmingham, it travels deeper than hanging gold medals around the necks of winning athletes and playing national anthems during award ceremonies.

“It’s not often a city or community has an opportunity to help the world reimagine what it is and to reintroduce itself in a pretty special way over [nearly two weeks] on a global stage,” Sellers said. “I have said this in speeches before, the extent people think about Birmingham, outside the Southeast, they probably think about us in black and white. I’m not talking about race, [I’m talking about] black and white TV images. This is an opportunity to help redefine ourselves. I hope, and what we are trying to portray is, this is a progressive city who is embracing its diversity. [A] coming of age, so to speak, taking its rightful place among progressive Southeastern cities. It’s a great place to host events.”

A wide variety of venues will be showcased during the World Games. It ranges from sparkling new Protective Stadium, which wouldn’t have been ready if the games weren’t delayed for a year, to venerable Legion Field to versatile sites like the Hoover Met and Birmingham CrossPlex. It includes temporary athletic venues like Sloss Furnaces and Powell Steam Plant. Boutwell Auditorium is transformed into an arena hosting Sumo wrestling, kickboxing and Muay Thai competitions while Avondale Park plays host to the world’s best archers.

Each one of the venues has its own story.

“You wouldn’t recognize Boutwell,” Sellers said. “We put a lot of makeup on it, and she looks good. You wouldn’t recognize Avondale Park. CrossPlex is having a bit of a facelift as well, Railroad Park is going to look fantastic. We took Sloss Furnaces and turned it into what is going to be the world’s biggest sports party for two weekends.”

The venues will feature a variety of sports trying to work their way into the Olympic rotation. Sellers said break dancing and sports climbing will be invitational sports in the next two Olympic Games. Softball and karate have been part of the Olympic Games previously, and others are on the doorstep of being included. The NFL is sponsoring the men’s and women’s flag football at Legion Field with the hopes of those events included as an Olympic sport by 2028.

See also: Flag football debuts at World Games; NFL makes push for Olympics

For the most part, though, conventional is not part of the World Games competition.

“This is going to be like going to the circus of sports,” said Sellers. “When you went to the circus as a kid, you were like, ‘I don’t know what is going to happen but it’s going to be wild.’”

All of it begins on Thursday night at Protective Stadium with an opening ceremony resulting from several years of planning. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bootsy Collins will serve as master of ceremonies and the show will include performances by Alabama, Nelly, Sara Evans, Sheila E, Tony! Toni! Tone! and Yolanda Adams. The event, which begins at 7:30 p.m., will also include the parade of athletes.

“We made the decision we were going to do something different,” Sellers said. “Generally, you don’t see a lot of big-name artists, maybe one, perform in the Olympic opening ceremony. We have a lot of great musicians from the state of Alabama. We have many of them on our program for opening and closing ceremony. It’s not like a concert.  They are there underpinning the whole story. It’s [like] an elaborate Super Bowl halftime show for opening and closing ceremony.”

You can see a full conversation with The World Games CEO Nick Sellers at 1819 News The Podcast

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