Is it the Olympics? No. It’s the World Games. Does it feel like the Olympics? Yes. There are no rings and there is no ‘eternal’ burning flame, but many Olympic symbols have been adopted, as can be seen in the opening ceremony.
Out of nowhere, The Green Goblin flies over the packed Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama. Funk legend Bootsy Collins, meanwhile, leads spectators through the history of the American city, which has played an important role in the African-American civil rights movement since the early 1960s. City of hard workers too, of coal and steel. And a city that wants to show itself to the world with a warm ‘southern charm’.
Flag bearers (for the Netherlands bowler Denise Blankenzee and korfball player Laurens Leeuwenhoek wave the red-white-blue) walk into the stadium during the country parade. There will be music, a spectacular drone and light show and the World Games will also be officially opened. Not by a seasoned official, but by the hip and young mayor of Birmingham, Randall Woodfin.
It is therefore not surprising that the World Games, which will be held until July 17, can best be described as the Olympic Games for non-Olympic sports. Korfball, squash and billiards are of the more famous kind, but there is also a more obscure and less well-known section. Canoe polo, floorball and lacrosse for example.
And there are sports that some do not recognize or qualify as such: bowling, dancing, frisbee.
They form a motley crew in Birmingham for ten days. The Dutch are active in 16 of the 34 sports at the event. Mike Schloesser is world archery champion, but not in an Olympic event and so he is at the World Games. “But actually I approach this as one of the tournaments I play,” he says. In good top sports practice, he skipped the opening ceremony, because his tournament starts a day later.
Just as TeamNL expresses itself at the Olympic Games, so it does at the World Games: in orange, recognizable among the hundreds of other athletes. “We have to look like a team. I think that’s important”, says chef de mission Jan Sjouke van der Bos. Van den Bos’s mission is to shape that unity even more, to involve sports umbrella organization NOC*NSF more emphatically in the sports and the event.
Korfbalbond KNKV, to which Van den Bos was associated as national coach for many years, has been taking the organizational lead since the beginning of this century. “We want to join the NOC*NSF with the World Games. This event must become part of the sports umbrella, just like the Paralympic Games and the Youth Olympic Games are.”
“Hopefully the result will be that there will be support to run good training programs and that there will be media attention. These sports matter. These are top athletes who put a lot of time into their passion.”
Five years ago, Van den Bos had the same mission at the edition in Wroclaw, Poland. “But then there was a lot of headwind. Now I feel that the tide has turned, we have the wind behind us.”
Right to exist
That feeling may be right. Anneke van Zanen, chairman of NOC*NSF, will be in Birmingham during the first days of the World Games “to get a taste of this event” and expressly speaks out in favor of the existence of these lesser-known sports.
“There are sports here that we don’t see often in the Netherlands and that is a loss. We don’t want to get the whole of the Netherlands playing sports for nothing. and where we can provide facility support.”
Here you can feel and see that there is an event. The reception, the decoration in the city – very cool to see.
Athletes at the World Games have to pay for a lot themselves, for some a reason not to participate in every tournament. But many athletes are talking about it. They are rewarded with the Olympic feeling, which might as well be called the World Games feeling.
“When we play a European Championship or a World Cup, the residents of that city often don’t even realize that the event is in their city,” say bowlers Samantha Greiner and Denise Blankenzee. “Here you can feel and see everything that there is an event. The reception, the decoration in the city – very cool to see.”
Is it the Olympics? No. It’s the World Games. Does it feel like the Olympics? No. It’s the World Games.