Southern Hospitality Is on Full Display as The World Games 2022 Take Over Birmingham, Alabama

This is only the second time since its origin in 1981 that these games have been held on U.S. soil.

The World Games Opening Ceremonies
Photo: The World Games

As American hero, combat war veteran, and Birmingham native Noah Galloway ran into the Protective Stadium carrying the American flag on Thursday, July 7, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin officially declared The World Games 2022 open. A year later than scheduled due to Covid, athletes from all around the world finally arrived in the Magic City to compete in The World Games. This is a sporting event like no other. And it's happening right here in our neck of the woods.

Created in 1981, and held every four years, Nick Sellers, the CEO of The World Games told Southern Living that this event is a display of the new generation of global sports. "They're 34 of the fastest growing sports in the world, roughly 3,600 athletes, from 108 countries, and the sports run gamut. I mean you've got parkour and breakdancing and waterski jumping and wakeboarding and just so many exciting sports."

The city of Birmingham has been simply buzzing with excitement to welcome the world to town and to showcase the best of the best of what this city has to offer. For Galloway, serving as an honorary co-chair of the games and an ambassador of his hometown is not a responsibility he's taking lightly.

"I've always said obviously as a combat veteran the country has been supportive, but the state of Alabama and the city of Birmingham have always been extremely supportive of me as a veteran but also everything I've done since. So to be asked to be the one to run the flag in, in Birmingham, when we have the entire world watching was a huge honor. I owe so much to the city of Birmingham for allowing me to do that," he told Southern Living.

Noah Galloway The World Games
The World Games

After Galloway and Mayor Woodfin opened the games, it was time for the parade of nations with all of the same pomp and circumstance of Olympic opening ceremonies. The excitement of the athletes was palpable in the stands and felt by the 27,000 in attendance. Then, what followed was a magical evening marking the city's storied history and celebrating its bright future. The show included performances from Yolanda Adams, Tony! Toni! Tone!, Shelia E, Nelly, Sara Evans, and of course, Alabama.

The Music of the World Games 2022 Yolanda Adams
Michael Hickey / Stringer/Getty
Randy Owen The Music of the World Games 2022
Michael Hickey / Stringer/Getty

The audience was also treated to a live performance of the official song of the games, "Hope of Alabama," complete with a synchronized drone show that was out of this world!

Nick and Jenny Nicholson, the Birmingham couple behind the popular food blog, Eating Alabama, were in attendance for opening ceremonies as well as several competitions this weekend and they told Southern Living, "We are extremely proud to be able to share our city with the world. It's been such a pleasure seeing Birmingham in the spotlight. Not only is Birmingham a great food destination, but the city will be known for its hospitality and rich history."

But it is not just the athletes and sports fans who are excited about The World Games coming to Birmingham. This is the largest international sporting event ever to take place in Iron City. On the heels of the shutdowns caused by the pandemic in 2020, local establishments are thrilled with the boom of business from both visitors and locals alike who are flocking to downtown.

Tad Snider, executive director and CEO of the BJCC Authority told us "I think any time you can generate international visibility on your city, where you live, and where you are proud of what we have, I think it's kind of a once in a lifetime moment." He continued, "One thing we love in the South is sports, and you know it's different kinds of sports that we're learning about but people are excited about checking all this out and proud to showcase their home to the world."

The BJCC complex holds several venues and is right across the street from Protective stadium. Also within its footprint are the two host hotels, Westin Birmingham and Sheraton Birmingham Hotel. Event venues dot all around as well as street vendors and nightly street concerts. The whole area surrounding the BJCC is known as Uptown, and it's busier than ever.

"I mean we just couldn't be prouder to represent our city and host a big party with a bunch of international visitors," Snider said.

As Snider mentioned, the Westin and Sheraton, both Marriott properties, are serving as host hotels for the games. They are the home base for many dignitaries, celebrities, and athletes for the duration of the two weeks. ​​Julius Robinson, Marriott's Chief Marketing Officer is glad they are getting to experience the best of the best in the Magic City. "The cool part about this city, especially Uptown with all the changes and now the City Walk is open, is there's always something new. So you can come here and then in 6 months come back and do something completely different."

It's true that the Uptown area of Birmingham has undergone a complete transformation over the last several years with the addition of City Walk, the brand new Protective Stadium, and several new restaurants and shops. The BJCC has long been a host of a variety of cultural experiences from Broadway shows to concerts, to comedy shows and now with all of the new additions to the neighborhood, Uptown is living up to its distinction as an entertainment district.

No one knows that better than the celebrity chef behind the restaurant that has anchored this area for years, Todd English. He was in town for the opening of the games, hosting a whole hog Southern feast (complete with the very best cornbread this editor has ever tasted) for some very lucky VIP guests at Todd English P.U.B. The seasoned chef with deep Southern roots was excited to be in town for this huge event for the city.

Todd English at The World Games
Rebecca Angel Baer

"It's amazing isn't it… It's great. It just goes to show Birmingham is here. It was always here but I think it's really here [now]. There's a lot of cities that this could have gone to, you know, and they came here and I think that's a real tribute to Birmingham and their progress, and making it the world class city that it deserves to be." Competition for all of the sports included in The World Games are happening in many different pockets of the greater Birmingham area but if you can't make it to town before the games end, you can watch the livestream on the Olympic Channel or highlights on CBS Sports. The World Games run from July 7 until July 17, 2022.

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