The World Games: A Sports Showcase Like No Other

The World Games will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, from Thursday July 7 to Sunday July 17.

The World Games Mascots
Photo: The World Games

What Are The World Games?

Every four years, thousands of athletes from around the world assemble to compete for the gold medal in their sport. And no, we're not talking about the Olympics. These are The World Games and they've been around since 1981. But unlike the Olympics, these games feature sports you may not have seen before such as drone racing and wushu, a form of Chinese martial arts. "We define The World Games as the new generation of global sports," Nick Sellers, CEO of The World Games, told Southern Living. "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."

Set to Make History

There are also plenty of exciting headlines developing around the games. One example comes from the world of lacrosse. It's a sport that has exploded across the U.S. in recent years but was first invented thousands of years ago by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. This is an indigenous group of six tribal nations, many of whom now live in upstate New York and nearby Canadian provinces. For the first time ever, the Haudenosaunee Nationals men's and women's lacrosse teams will be competing in The World Games. But it's a historical moment that almost didn't happen. When the Nationals finally became eligible to play, the eight slots allotted for lacrosse teams had already been filled. However, in a show of incredible sportsmanship, the Irish national lacrosse team withdrew from the games, therefore allowing the Haudenosaunee Nationals to take that spot and compete in the sport their ancestors created.

Back in the U.S.A.

One reason you may not be as familiar with The World Games is because although the first event took place in Santa Clara, California, more than 40 years ago, all the events since then have occurred outside of the U.S. The games have been hosted by countries such as Poland, Japan, and Columbia. But this year, The World Games are coming back to American soil in the state of Alabama. "They recognized they wanted to create some brand identity back in the U.S., so Birmingham actually became a finalist host city back in 2015," explained Sellers. "Birmingham really wants to use this moment to help the world see a new image of our city, how far we've come and where we're going. And that's what sports and entertainment can do if you leverage them."

Sellers said Birmingham chased Atlanta and other large Southern cities for years, but never quite found its rightful place in the South. "Birmingham has really struggled to find our new identity coming out of the 60's and 70's and the civil rights struggle," said Sellers. "But in recent years, our political leaders have come together with our business leadership, and we've got a really energetic, charismatic, young mayor named Randall Woodfin who has reached out across racial boundaries and built true authentic partnerships." Those partnerships have led to the development of a new 45,000 seat stadium, a revitalized city center, and several James Beard award-winning restaurants. "I think we're coming of age, and we're realizing we don't want to be Atlanta or Nashville or Charlotte, we want to be a cool Birmingham," stated Sellers. "And with all of our scars, we're finally becoming proud of who we are. It's really pretty beautiful to see."

A Southern Inspired Opening Ceremony

Some of these themes will be reflected in the opening ceremonies of The World Games. Serving as The Master of Ceremonies is none other than The Master of Funk, Bootsy Collins. As part of the show, Collins will lead four young girls, symbolic of the four girls who lost their lives during the historic bombing of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church, to help tell the story of the host city. Sellers said, "He will take these four girls on an epic journey of Birmingham's past, present and future with Nelly, Sara Evans, Tony Toni Tone, the band Alabama, all singing in different acts."

In addition, Birmingham's beloved music composer, Dr. Henry Panion, has teamed up with Randy Owen, the front man for the band Alabama, to create a collaborative performance showcasing Alabama country star Jamey Johnson and American Idol alum, Taylor Hicks, gospel artist Pastor Mike Jr. along with many others. "It's just an incredible medley," Sellers said. "And they will unveil that song live for the first time at the opening ceremony."

Rather than having a torch relay, The World Games organizers collaborated with Team Red White and Blue, a veteran support organization, to have thousands of American military vets, both abled and disabled run an American flag across the country. "And on July 7th at 8pm, American military hero, Noah Galloway, and our mayor will run that same flag into our opening ceremony with Sara Evans singing "America the Beautiful," and Yolanda Adams singing the National Anthem," Sellers described. "It is going to be just a special global moment when all of these athletes parade in."

And if there isn't enough excitement happening on the ground, just look up. Hunter Kowald, creator of the SkySurfer Aircraft and who was featured in the latest Spider-Man movie, will be flying into the stadium on a human drone.

The World Games run from Thursday July 7 to Sunday July 17. Tickets can be purchased by sport, by date or by venue with day passes selling for just $35. Visit for more information.

We can't wait to welcome the world to Southern Living's home town.

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