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Five Sports Ready to Make Their Debut in Birmingham World Games

26 Sep, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Five sports are banking on Southern hospitality to help them grow.

The 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama have announced the invitational sports to be presented during the 10-day event. They are flag football, men’s lacrosse, duathlon, wheelchair rugby and wushu. (Let the Googling begin).

The World Games (a multi-sport event like the Olympics, but a bit more user-friendly and accessible) will run from October 7-17 throughout Birmingham. There is some crossover from the Olympics (sports like gymnastics, archery and softball) but there are also plenty  of sports many in the U.S. have never seen contested, including tug of war, fistball, korf and air sports. The full list of sports and can be found here.

In the meantime, here’s a rundown of the five invitational sports:

Duathlon, a multi-sport event that consists of running, cycling and running again (in short, it’s like triathlon but without the swimming) has actually been in the World Games before, in 2009. It will be contested in both standard and mixed relay disciplines, and is conducted in sprint, standard, middle and long distances.

Flag football has been gaining in popularity in the U.S. – in an era of concerns about concussions, the sport has been gaining in popularity. NAIA expects to add flag as a full-time varsity sport for women in 2021 as well, meaning the USA’s bench of potential players just got deeper. The NFL will be partnering on the program, which is overseen by the International Federation of American Football (IFAF).

Men’s lacrosse likely needs no introduction. Interestingly, the women’s version of the sport is already on the program for the World Games (and has been for one cycle). The men’s version of the sport makes its debut with a back story that is almost made for Hollywood: In a remarkable show of sportsmanship, Ireland's lacrosse team withdrew from The World Games to allow the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team to take its place, World Lacrosse announced.

"It's simply the right thing to do," Michael Kennedy, chief executive officer of Ireland Lacrosse, said in a statement.

The sport is rooted in Native American tradition and eight teams were selected to participate in TWG’s inaugural men’s tournament based on where the team finished in the 2018 Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship. The Iroquois finished third and Ireland finished 12th, but the Iroquois Nationals were initially deemed ineligible to compete by the International World Games Association (IWGA) because it did not represent a sovereign nation and does not have an Olympic Committee. But in August, the IWGA said it would be willing to make the change if a place in the tournament could be found for the Iroquois team. That's when Ireland Lacrosse stepped up – or stepped back, as it were. The full story is available here.

Side note: Isn’t this story something the world needs right now?

Wheelchair rugby is the first wheelchair-based sport to be featured in TWG. In this version of the sport, players are classified according to their functional level and assigned a point value ranging from 0.5 – 3.5. All players on the court for a team cannot exceed eight points. Physical contact between wheelchairs is an integral part of the game, however, direct physical contact between players is not permitted. 

“We're looking forward to integrating disabled sports of the highest level into our event for the very first time,” IWGA Head of Games Services Sebastian Garvens said.

Wushu is an ancient Chinese martial art which, over the years, has developed into numerous distinct styles and systems, each incorporating their own techniques, tactics, principles and methods, as well as the use of a wide variety of traditional weaponry. Competitive wushu is categorized into two main categories, namely Taolu (Routines Competition) and Sanda (Free-fighting Competition). TWG   will feature Talou, which refers to the set routine (form) practice component of wushu. Wushu has been in TWG previously, in both 2009 and 2013.

Stateside, the USA Wushu Kungu Federation (USAWKF) is the official United States representative to the 146-member-nation International Wushu Federation (IWUF) and selects the USA’s national team in wushu.

While wushu (and many of the sports in TWG)currently do not have a widespread following in the U.S., organizers in Birmingham are hoping to change that with their planned Sports Garden that will provide visitors with the opportunity to see sports up close, and even to attempt them.

Current plans are to locate this at the Plaza at Railroad Park, near the Barons' baseball stadium. It is anticipated that member federations who are not presently competing will be able to discuss their sports from the plaza stage and to allow onlookers to try their hand. It is anticipated that programming will also be available to those with disabilities – a good thing since it is likely that wheelchair rugby will bring in a new demographic of spectators interested in exploring their potential.

It's also likely that the World Games will be able to raise interest in many sports (among these boules, fistball and korfball) – something event owners may want to prepare for by reaching out to clubs or federations for these sports.

While Birmingham is already active on the sports hosting scene, the World Games is expected to create a major impression on the city. While the Games are anticipated to cost $50 million, most of that funding will come from corporate sponsors. The payoff, though, is immense: a planned $256 million in economic impact. An estimated 3,600 athletes from over 30 sports and 100 countries will take part in The World Games.

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