Organizations in the West Midlands have accused the Commonwealth Games of not addressing multicultural communities across the region.
A number of groups have claimed organizers of July’s sporting event in Birmingham have ignored their requests for participation, saying creative groups led by people of color have been put on hold for the cultural festival running alongside the Games.
“Birmingham is such a diverse city, we have the whole of the Commonwealth here and they missed this opportunity,” said Aftab Rahman, the director of Legacy West Midlands, a charity that promotes migrant heritage and community well-being. “It’s a big thing for us as a city, it will put us on the international stage. But when they took on the games, one of the biggest points was diversity. And it didn’t happen.”
Rahman was one of several signatories to an open letter to the games released last month, which claimed that “Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities appear to have been bypassed and key contributors to this local culture and business innovation ignored.”
Martin Green, the games chief creative officer, responded to the claims by saying: “While some of the fears expressed are entirely valid and understandable, I am genuinely confident that at the end of the day they will prove unfounded. Unfortunately, no matter what type of funding you have, there are always decisions to be made.”
He said the schedule of events is still in the works and “anyone can look at the current program and see for themselves that it really reflects this place”.
Varun Singh, program manager at Sandwell and Birmingham Mela, the UK’s largest South Asian music festival, who also signed the open letter, said: “We have engaged with them, we have often paid lip service to the culture team but we have heard nothing back. It feels like we’ve been faded out. We want to work together. It’s sad that we had to shout about it like that.
“But it’s not too late. Our doors are open. We are ready to work with the culture team.” He said the Mela had submitted a proposal for a presence during the games but had not received any feedback.
Singh also said he had asked for a breakdown of the recipients of all the Games’ creative grants and commissions to date, but organizers said that while they had “nothing to hide” they would not release the information until the events schedule was complete.
Jatinder Singh, the President of Guru Nanak Gurdwara near the Sandwell Aquatics Center – newly built for the event – said he had received “continuous negative reactions” when trying to work with the Commonwealth Games, including inviting Perry to the mascot of the event, for a visit.
“It was very discouraging to be honest. The lack of response we had really put a damper on that. It’s not that we want to cause problems with the games themselves, because that’s what we’re proud of,” he said. “But we are a mile away from a multi-million pound complex being built for the Games. We would like to get more involved.
“We have 10,000 people coming to our gurdwara every week. I tell our community about the games and what’s happening, but how or why should I do that when the people I’m promoting don’t want to know?”
It’s not the first time the event has come under criticism for gender equality issues. It was heavily criticized in 2020 when it was revealed that its entire leadership team was white and all but one of the board members were also white. It responded by recruiting more diverse board members and hiring an equality officer.
Commonwealth Games organizers said they had held 50 community hub events and 60 community roadshows that reached nearly 150,000 local residents, as well as diversity and faith forums to consult with community representatives.