More than 35 million people – just over half of the UK population – are set to watch the BBC’s coverage of the Commonwealth Games, when the event opens in Birmingham later this month.
The 22nd Games will see 6,500 athletes competing and the broadcaster plans over 200 hours of live coverage and 11 live streams via its digital platforms.
It comes after the BBC was heavily criticised for its ‘pitiful’ coverage of the Tokyo Olympics, when it could only offer two live events at one time.
Heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson is defending her title at the Commonwealth Games
The Director General of the corporation, Tim Davie, said the BBC will be on ‘full power’ for the 11 days of competition, with large chunks of the organisation relocating to Birmingham for the duration of the sporting festival, which opens on July 28.
The commentary teams will also include a host of locals, including heptathlete Denise Lewis, who trained from childhood at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium, five-time Paralympic gold medallist Ellie Simmonds from Walsall and former England netball team captain, Ama Agbeze, from Selly Oak, whose side beat Australia down under to claim gold four years ago.
Among other star names in the commentary box will be gymnast Max Whitlock as he delays his return to competitive action following his success at the Olympics last summer.
The last Commonwealth Games on home soil were in Glasgow in 2014 and the BBC anticipates it will at least match the figures for that competition, albeit with viewers spread across more digital channels.
The Birmingham Games will award more medals to women than men for the first time in its history. The introduction of women’s T20 cricket will contribute toa total of 136 medal events for women, as opposed to 134 for men.
Dina Asher-Smith celebrates with her flag after winning bronze in the Women’s 200m Final at the Carrara Stadium during day eight of the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast
Heptathlete Denise Lewis won two golds at Commonwealth Games and is looking forward to welcoming the world to Birmingham, where she trained and ran for Birchfield Harriers
And today the BBC unveiled a strong female team of its own, led by anchors Gabby Logan, Hazel Irvine and Clare Balding, along with Jason Mohammad, Holly Hamilton and Ayo Akinwolere, who will all present the live action.
Former heptathlete, Lewis, who also won gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, will be providing expert comment. Born in Wolverhampton, she made her debut at the 1994 Games in Victoria, where she won her first gold.
‘It cannot get any better than this for me,’ said Lewis. ‘Having a Commonwealth Games here and across the West Midlands.
‘My own international career was kick started at the Commonwealth Games. And this city will be rocking when it starts. I am bursting [with pride].’
Lewis ran for Birchfield Harriers and used to travel across Birmingham for training with her school bag slung over her shoulder, driven by the dream of one day making a national team.
How it’s going to look – an artist’s impression of the Alexander Stadium at the Games
Birmingham has been rebuilt in recent years and is almost ready to host the Games
‘I watched the Commonwealth Games as a child and to be selected was incredible. I was giddy with excitement. I was the rank outsider. I didn’t have high expectations, I just wanted to support those people who had supported me. But it changed my life.’
As a Commonwealth gold medallist that year, Lewis was in good company alongside Sally Gunnell and Linford Christie. When she came home, her neighbours had decorated the street with banners and balloons and she was recognised across the West Midlands and the country.
Lewis insists the current crop of athletes have as much desire to compete at the Commonwealth Games now, as she did then despite a packed calendar of competitions.
Some big names will be missing, like diver Tom Daley as he continues to take time out after winning gold at Tokyo 2020 and swimmer Adam Peaty, is still an injury doubt. Even so, Team England has a host of medal prospects, too.
On the track, Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson headline a 72-strong team, which was announced on Wednesday.
The Games have had 1.5 million tickets for sale to watch the competition between 72 teams
Asher-Smith, the world 200m champion, will compete in the women’s 100m and 4x100m, in which she claimed a gold medal in the 2018.
Heptathlon world champion Johnson-Thompson will also defend her title, while Tokyo Olympic medallists Keely Hodgkinson (800m) and Holly Bradshaw (pole vault) are also in the squad.
Among the men, Adam Gemili, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake and Birmingham-born European 400m champion and British record holder Matthew Hudson-Smith are big medal hops.
The heroes of Team England four years ago were the netball team, who shocked hosts Australia to take the gold medal by one point, coming from behind in a thrilling final.
England’s netball team sprung a huge shock and won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games
The captain of that team, Agbeze, believes her former team mates are well-placed to repeat the trick, even though she can still hardly believe England took gold last time around and for the first time in the event.
‘I am in shock every time I see it,’ joked Agbeze. ‘For so many years we had been trying to get to the final… it has still not sunk in. I get goosebumps every time.’
In the years since that historic final, Agbeze says she is often told by English sports fans that it was ‘the sporting event of the century’, despite it being screened in the UK at 3am. Participation in netball rocketed as a result.
Agzebe hopes the these home Games will have a similar impact.
‘Not just in elite sport but in terms of participation,’ she said. And she is looking forward to welcoming 72 participating nations and territories to her home town.
Swimmer Ellie Simmonds won five Paralympic golds, but never competed in Commonwealths
‘We are so proud to show Birmingham off to the world,’ she said.
The Birmingham Games will also host more para events than ever before, with 283 medals up for grabs in athletics, cycling, powerlifting, swimming, table tennis, triathlon, 3×3 wheelchair basketball and lawn bowls.
Simmonds, who was inspired to become a para athlete by watching the 2004 Athens Olympics, never competed at a Commonwealth Games. Her event, the S6 100m, was not included until this year and she retired following the Tokyo Olympics.
‘Birmingham is going to rise to the occasion,’ Simmonds, whose family are volunteering and have bought tickets, told Sportsmail. ‘You will certainly hear me cheering. It is going to be electric.’