Birmingham needs a Velodrome for the Commonwealth Games - and it's now or never

It's now or never if we are to build a legacy for cycling in the West Midlands, urged the chair of a prestigious cycling club ahead of the next Commonwealth Games, to be held in Birmingham.

David Viner, chair of Halesowen CC whose alumni include double paralympic medallist Helen Scott, called for funds to build a Birmingham Velodrome in time for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in the city.

"This is a golden opportunity to get an indoor velodrome for Birmingham, and if we don’t take the opportunity now, we’ll never get one," he said.

As it stands, track (or indoor) cycling events at the games will be held well over 100 miles away, at the Lea Valley VeloPark in London, built for the 2012 Olympics.

This is apparently due to issues of time and finance, with the city only stepping in as host late last year, replacing Durban (South Africa), who were stripped of the event for financial reasons.

It means that Birmingham has only four years to prepare, instead of the usual seven.

However Mr Viner pointed to plans already in place to expand the Alexander Athletics Stadium in Perry Barr at a cost of £70 million, as well as for a new £60 million Aquatics Centre in Sandwell to the North-East of Birmingham, and suggested a Velodrome would cost less:

“All we’re saying is, let’s give cycling a fair crack of the whip.

“If we go for the full 250 metre track, with 4000 seating [i.e. Commonwealth Games’ standard], you’re probably looking at £35 to 40 million. But that’s a relatively low cost compared with some venues,” he said.

In the video below Mr Viner explains the ways in which a velodrome could continue to be used after the Commonwealth Games, using the examples of smaller velodromes which already exist in Derby and Newport (Wales):

"This is a golden opportunity to get an indoor velodrome for Birmingham, and if we don't take the opportunity now, we’ll never get one."

Owing to approaches made by Mr Viner, the velodrome campaign has received the backing of Brian Cookson OBE, former president of Union Cycliste Internationale (the world governing body for cycling), while a group of Midlands MPs signed a letter to Julie Harrington, chief executive of British Cycling, in February stressing the need for a modern, indoor track in the West Midlands.

James Morris, MP for Halesowen and Rowley Regis, who composed the letter, has claimed this is just the beginning of a cross party campaign he will be leading to have a velodrome built in time for the 2022 games.

In tandem with these efforts Charlie Dickens, 23, launched a petition in January calling for a new velodrome to be built closer to Birmingham. So far it has received nearly 4500 signatures, just 500 shy of the 5000 target.

Though not an avid cyclist himself, Mr Dickens questioned the decision to host the flagship event so far away from the host-city, pointing out that Manchester has its own velodrome, while one was built in Glasgow specifically for the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

He said: “Loads of people around the country have an outdated perception of Birmingham. The Commonwealth Games is a chance to challenge that, to show that it is a modern city as well as a great place to live and visit.

“Birmingham is the UK’s second-largest city so why shouldn’t we be given the facilities to ensure we can compete on a global scale?”

He added that, in addition to serving Birmingham, a velodrome would give five million people living in the wider West Midlands region easy access to a state-of-the-art track, helping to maintain British success in cycling disciplines:

“Great Britain is a heavyweight in track cycling, yet the facilities are concentrated in a few venues around the country.

“How does British cycling expect to continue to produce world-class talent without widening participation? After all, it isn’t exactly the easiest sport to get into!” he said.

The decision to hold track cycling in London has proved controversial within the sport of shooting too, which is set to be dropped from the 2022 games allegedly on the grounds that there is a lack of suitable facilities near Birmingham. This is despite Bisley Shooting Ground in Surrey, which was used at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester and would presumably be used again in 2022, being closer to Birmingham than the Lea Valley VeloPark.

It will be only the second time since 1966 that shooting has not been a part of the Commonwealth Games programme.

According to Anita North, who won silver medals in the trap singles and pairs at the Manchester games in 2002 (and singles gold eight years later in Delhi), arrangements for shooting events worked well, despite Bisley Shooting Ground being over 200 miles from Manchester:

“Special trains were organised to transport us to the opening and closing ceremonies. The satellite athlete’s village set up in Guildford worked well and kept all the shooting athletes together,” she said.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games, which have been taking place across the last two weeks in the Gold Coast, Eastern Australia, come to an end today. As part of the handover ceremony a performance by a cast of young Brummies, choreographed by the award-winning Rosie Kay, will be broadcast live from Birmingham city centre.