BIRMINGHAM - As athletes and sports fans from around the globe gather in Birmingham for Thursday's (July 28) opening ceremony, there is hope that staging the 22nd Commonwealth Games will be a catalyst to revive the city and showcase it to an international audience.
After the Hanoi SEA Games in May, the upcoming Commonwealth Games is the second major multi-sport competition to have spectators since the pandemic.
More than 1.25 million tickets have been sold, a record for the quadrennial Games. The previous two editions in Glasgow 2014 and Gold Coast 2018 each sold about one million tickets.
Birmingham 2022 chair John Crabtree expects a broadcast audience of more than a billion and believes these numbers are encouraging for a city that has been in economic decline.
He told The Straits Times: "It was a big manufacturing centre and manufacture has declined for 40 years year on year. Then we had the global financial crisis, which hit Birmingham very hard and then the pandemic. This is a city that has had a hard time.
"There's lots of inequality in the city - although everyone gets along very well, there is a lot of poverty, a lot of divergence not convergence, so to have the world looking on this city and to show the world what we can do is a unique opportunity for us."
To that end, £778 million (S$1.3 billion) of public funding has been channelled into organising this year's Games.
The Alexander Stadium, which will stage the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the track and field events, was renovated for about £72 million. With a capacity of around 18,000, it will be the largest permanent facility capable of hosting big athletics meets in the United Kingdom.
The £73 million Sandwell Aquatics Centre is the only newly built facility at the Games and will be open for public use next May.
Retiree Chris Hall, 64, whose daughter Katherina used to compete in athletics and swimming, said such investments bode well for future generations.
He noted: "Besides having the event now, the Alexander Stadium will be there as a world-class venue in years to come."
Mr Crabtree also highlighted the opportunities for businesses, noting that some 40,000 jobs have been created for the duration of the July 28 to Aug 8 Games.
While Thai restaurant Siamais, located near the city centre, has not seen an uptick in business so far, bar manager Janis Dislers is expecting it to pick up when the competition gets under way.
He added: "It's always nice to see something happening around that brings in more people. I'm excited to meet visitors from around the world."
Birmingham is hosting 6,500 athletes and officials from 72 Commonwealth nations and territories and vlogger Bernard Carroll believes this is the perfect opportunity to showcase the diversity of the city.
"It is a multicultural city - anyone from the world can come here and enjoy the love," said the 71-year-old, who was born in London but moved to the West Midlands five years ago.
Main thoroughfares like shopping belt Corporation Street are decorated with billboards, banners and signage in the Commonwealth Games 2022's bright mix of green, pink, blue, orange, purple and yellow while the main mascot - a bull named Perry - is a fixture on all decorations.
Victoria Square came to life on Wednesday as it welcomed the Queen's Baton Relay with a festival featuring performances by a Irish pipes and drums group, a samba band, dhol drummers, a West African band, Bollywood dance performers and British rapper Sanity drawing more than 1,000 curious onlookers.
For locals like Mr Norman Bartlam, 64, who works in the television industry, there is a noticeable sense of excitement.
The city is home to two of the country's oldest football clubs Aston Villa and Birmingham City and has staged top international sporting events like the All England Open Badminton Championships but the Commonwealth Games is on a different scale.
Mr Bartlam said: "Birmingham has always wanted a big sporting event and this is probably the biggest we've had. This is going to do fantastic for the local economy.
"With all the coverage that's going to be seen around the world, hopefully it'll be great for the image of Birmingham - to show all the good side of things and the regeneration that is happening."