The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games are less than six months away and Tim Lawler, SportsAid’s Chief Executive, is excited to see the country’s sporting talent shine under the global spotlight once again - and in turn - capture inspiration for a future generation of medal-winning athletes in front of a home crowd. Tim will be closely involved with the Games as the charity is delivering the innovative Team England Futures programme on behalf of Commonwealth Games England.
Tim, who joined SportsAid back in 2004, will be closely involved with the Games as the charity is delivering the innovative Team England Futures programme on behalf of Commonwealth Games England. The programme, supported by Sport England, will provide around 1,000 athletes and aspiring support staff the opportunity to experience a unique taster of a multi-sport Games.
Team England Futures aims to better prepare athletes to deliver medal-winning performances as future debutants for Team England, Team GB or ParalympicsGB - while support staff can benefit from first-hand experience of the opportunities and challenges they could face at a major Games. They will also gain a greater understanding into being part of a diverse, multi-sport team and its values.
The programme’s cohort will have free access to interactive online workshop sessions, time with Team England athletes, expert practitioners and inspirational ambassadors, as well as the chance to watch live competition and receive behind-the-scenes experiences, including visits to training and accommodation facilities, at the Commonwealth Games this summer.
“Team England Futures is really exciting,” said Tim. “The idea is building on the experience of other organisations like Team GB and ParalympicsGB that have seen value in trying to create an environment for a cohort of the next generation to visit a major Games and see all the different moving parts - seeing what that particular event has to offer, as well as giving them the opportunity to be ready for their breakthrough moment, whenever it may come.
“It's a home Games and it's coming out of an awful couple of years with the pandemic. We’d like to build on the lessons of those previous initiatives by Team GB and ParalympicsGB and on the positives which have come out from the pandemic, such as the popularity and accessibility of online workshop sessions, to create a new edition ready to capitalise on a home Games. We’re aiming to create a unique, experiential, inspirational programme that links to everything Birmingham has to offer.”
Team England Futures will include athletes and support staff at different stages of their development. This will include those who are more established in the performance environment of their sport; those with huge potential at age-group level; and those considering what sport might be for them - perhaps struggling with the opportunity to give it a go due to a lack of access. Tim feels this programme is special – offering participants a wonderful chance to accelerate their development and reset their ambitions.
“We think that third group is one of the most important – to reach out to young people around the country that aren't part of a traditional pathway environment, perhaps due to a lack of opportunity or inspiration, or because they don’t feel included or that it’s not relevant to them, is so valuable,” added Tim. “There are often many barriers stopping people from trying things, including sport, and barriers aren’t always obvious or visible. We feel that the Games is too good an opportunity to miss to help address this.
“With the Games as the backdrop and with the SportsAid alumni that will be involved, we will connect to this next generation in Team England Futures – they are the human capital of sport, the people that can inspire people. I think beyond the Games that will be a very positive contributor to harnessing sport in our national recovery from the pandemic.”
Tim, who has been awarded an MBE in the recent New Year’s Honours list for services to Sport for Young People, recognises that a home Games will give an opportunity for the current and next generation of athletes – and could be pivotal for the future of British sport.
“The Commonwealth Games themselves are known as the 'Friendly Games' and over the years we’ve seen the athletes and the sports trying to show what those values and characteristics can mean in a sporting context,” said Tim. “At SportsAid we listen to the next generation and value their views and opinions - the Commonwealth Games is therefore a perfect platform to do more of that.
“I do think that the Games in Birmingham has huge potential. Its timing, the characteristics of the Games themselves, the fact that it is Birmingham as the second city and one with huge cultural diversity - all of those are positives in my eyes. I think the trailblazing nature of the Commonwealth Games in this regard is absolutely outstanding and really should be celebrated.
“Birmingham has taken it on further with the ambition to be the first carbon neutral Games, it has the biggest medal haul ever available for female athletes and it will continue the commitment to fully integrated para sport. The make-up of Team England will be very diverse and this will be amplified in Team England Futures, being more reflective of modern day Britain and its various communities and cultures. All of these are game-changing elements that will become the norm for major multi-sport events - that's how important this is.”
SportsAid athletes have experienced significant successes at recent Commonwealth Games, with 101 medals awarded to Team England on the Gold Coast in 2018 – 74% of which were won by beneficiaries of the charity’s support. Eight of the medals were won by current SportsAid recipients at the time - including a gold for sprinter Reuben Arthur in the 4x100m, and a silver for James Arnott in the T47 100m.
“Team England Futures is an opportunity to put all the good things that SportsAid has worked on in recent years into one really exciting programme,” said Tim. “Every athlete nominated to SportsAid for 2022 will be included in Team England Futures, so our normal cycle of work helping that next generation has that added excitement of what Birmingham has to offer. The Games and Team England Futures will make 2022 a key milestone for everyone involved.
“For us at the moment, the SportsAid team, we're really enjoying the project and it feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We really would like to make the most of that for all involved, so everyone in the wider SportsAid family, but certainly those involved in Team England Futures, feel the same that it's too good an opportunity to miss.”
Commonwealth Games England has appointed SportsAid to lead on the development, management and operational delivery of Team England Futures at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The programme, supported by Sport England, will reinforce the importance of the Commonwealth Games, particularly one hosted on home soil, as a developmental opportunity within the talent and performance pathway!