Birmingham athletics show amid fiscal woes



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Birmingham will host 2026 European Athletics Image: Alexander Stadium, Stephen - Itsyourbuild, CC BY-SA 2.0

On January 12th a crucial meeting took place in Birmingham (UK) where the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) discussed the 2026 European Athletics Championships in light of the lack of resources and financial challenges facing England’s second largest City.

‘inside the games’ stated that the WMCA, which brings together the local authorities to make the region a better place to live, met on January 12th. A crucial item on the agenda was the upcoming European Athletics Championships in 2026 amid numerous rumors that the British City’s hosting of the event could be in jeopardy.

Birmingham (UK)-based the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) is a combined authority for the West Midlands metropolitan county in the United Kingdom. It was established by a statutory instrument under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. It is a strategic authority with powers over transport, economic development and regeneration. The authority formally came into being on June 17th, 2016.

The 27th European Athletics Championships will be held from August 3rd-9th, 2026 at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham, United Kingdom.

The European Athletics Championships is a biennial athletics event organized by the European Athletics Association and is recognized as the elite continental outdoor athletics championships for Europe.

The European Athletic Association is the governing body for athletics in Europe. It is one of the six Area Associations of the world’s athletics governing body World Athletics. The European Athletics has 51 members and is headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The 18,000-capacity Alexander Stadium is a track and field athletics stadium in Perry Park, Birmingham, England (UK). It hosted the athletics and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

‘inside the games’ further stated that the combined authority makes decisions for its regions through Government delegation, ensuring that they are made by those who best understand their region, its opportunities and its challenges. Established in 2016, the WMCA comprises 18 local Councils and 1 Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), working together for the benefit of everyone who lives and works in the region, including businesses, Councils and education leaders.

The WMCA met to consider, amongst other things, the organisation and funding of the 2026 European Athletics Championships in Birmingham, given the resource constraints and financial issues facing England’s second-largest City.

After deliberation, it was considered prudent to take all necessary steps to fulfill the contract despite the resource constraints. Previously, the Council and the UK Athletics (UKA) had signed the Organising Agreement contract with the European Athletics (EA) in November 2022, following which an application for funding from the Commonwealth Games Legacy Fund, administered by the WMCA, was approved for a total value of £13.7 million ($17.43 million) towards the estimated total delivery cost of £30 million ($38.16 million).

Birmingham (UK)-based the UK Athletics is the governing body for the sport of athletics in the United Kingdom. It is responsible for overseeing the governance of athletics events in the UK as well as athletes, their development and athletics officials.

Within the current context and economic challenges, and recognizing the importance of the event to the region, a decision was taken to replan and refine the budget to ensure it could be delivered within the available resources. More recently, this decision has been influenced by the financial circumstances of the Council and the additional governance involved in approving new expenditure.

As it is not possible for the Birmingham City Council (BCC) to deliver the previously planned level of expenditure for 2023-2024, or to continue with the originally planned grassroots sports program, the BCC is seeking to reschedule the timing and nature of expenditure before March 31st, 2025. This involves reducing expenditure in 2023-2024 from £4.5m to £4m, but increasing it for the corresponding period in 2024-2025 from £5.2m to £9.7m.

Appendix 1 of the Board’s report explicitly states the need for debt restructuring: “Without debt restructuring, the BCC will not be able to identify sufficient eligible expenditure to secure the originally planned £8.5 million from the Commonwealth Games Legacy Fund (with a likely shortfall of £4.5 million). This would result in a funding shortfall for the Championships of such magnitude that the quality of the event would be significantly compromised or a higher level of funding would be required, posing a fundamental risk to the continuation of the event.”

The document also outlines the rationale for the reallocation of funds: “The BCC remains committed to the importance and need for major events such as the European Athletics Championships to be more than an elite sporting event and to act as a catalyst for promoting participation and physical activity at the grassroots level. Given the Council’s financial difficulties, it will not be possible to secure the necessary funding from BCC resources to deliver the grassroots sports program as planned through a ‘resource swap’.”

“The partners are actively seeking alternative ways to ensure the delivery of community-led and community-centered activities at the grassroots level in partnership with the European Athletics Championships. The partners in the UK joint venture proposal have knowledge and expertise in this area and the BCC is confident that they will support the partners in achieving this objective,” it added.

The £10 million ($12.72 million) funding for the Alexander Stadium will be spread across a number of projects to ensure the stadium’s continued legacy as an event destination and community facility. From permanent event lighting to a 3G pitch and the relocation of the public access gym, these renovations will be used to benefit the community and capitalize on societal changes in key areas. Improvements to Perry Park and the surrounding area are also planned.

In relation to this budget, the Boards report states, “The BCC’s Expense Control Board has approved the work on the Alexander Stadium and the principle of the resource swap, so we are confident that the resource swap can proceed and the funds required for the European Athletics Championships can be released within the Commonwealth Games Legacy Fund period. At the time of writing, the BCC have agreed to release £670,000 from the capital budget, effectively reducing this expenditure to £9.33k and reducing the deficit from £2.2 million to £1.53 million.”

The statement makes it clear that the “WMCA’s specific financial requirement remains the same, at £13.7 million, and there would be no request to the WMCA to support cost pressures or overspends. The UKA-JV will take all financial risk and support the event, allowing the BCC to limit its financial contribution and minimize risk. It is expected that the UKA-JV will sign a new Organiser’s Agreement with the European Athletics or that the existing tripartite agreement between the UKA, the BCC and European Athletics will be novated from the BCC to the UKA-JV. In either case, one or more funding agreements between the BCC and the UKA-JV are expected to facilitate the remaining funding commitments.”

The BCC will continue to support the event in terms of providing the stadium and associated venue management and facilitating statutory services such as permits, licenses, waste management, etc. The UKA- JV will be responsible for traffic management planning in conjunction with the Transport for West Midlands, with support from the BCC as required.

As part of the joint venture approach, a Local Organising Committee (LOC) will be established to provide an opportunity for local and regional oversight and direction to ensure that the benefits of the European Athletics Championships are retained in the region.

As well as confirming that the 2026 European Athletics Championships will go ahead as planned despite the reallocation of resources, the WMCA stresses that these changes will bring benefits to the community and the region as a whole, both in terms of economic gains and social impact. They will help to increase the levels of activity and participation in sport in the community, have a positive impact on reported levels of mental wellbeing and act as a catalyst to address health inequalities.

The Birmingham City Council is the local Government body responsible for the governance of the City of Birmingham in England which has been a metropolitan district since 1974. It is the most populated Local Council Area in the United Kingdom (excluding counties) with 101 elected Councilors representing over one million people in 69 Wards.

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