I couldn’t be more excited to be celebrating the opening of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham today. I’m always in awe of these talented athletes. I really hope we can come together to cheer on all the participants, and maybe even be inspired to get involved in one of the sports ourselves.
The Commonwealth Games has long been a venue for so many exceptional young athletes to demonstrate their talents. For example, Anna Hursey, an 11 year old table tennis player from Cardiff, became the youngest-ever competitor at the 2018 Games.
This year, I would like to wish especially good luck to those impressive athletes who are representing England aged just 17 years old. Good luck from me and my whole team to Freya Kemp and Alice Capsey in the cricket, Poppy Maskill in the swimming, and Charlie McIntyre in the wheelchair basketball!
Sport has a unique power to inspire children, as I have written before in regard to Wimbledon and the Women’s Euros. I am excited about all the children who will be inspired by watching the Games – happening right here in England – and from the pre-Games activities that many schools and colleges have done over the last few months.
I hope all children are able to look at the Games and find new role models, set their ambitions high, and get excited about sport in their own lives.
I want to champion the benefits of sport and active play for children. Physical activity has been proven over and over again to make children happier, healthier, and more connected to their peers and community – and even to improve their attainment at school.
I also know how important sport is for children, as they told me in The Big Ask, the largest-ever survey of children that I conducted last year. You can read more about what they said about sport here.
But there’s a lot more that we, as adults, can do to make sport and active play accessible and available. I have previously suggested introducing an extra, voluntary session in school for enrichment activities like sport that so often get crowded out in a busy curriculum. I have also made some suggestions on supporting local youth services and creating safe public spaces so that all children can find opportunities to play outside of school as well.
My final thought on the Commonwealth Games is that they mean a lot of things to different people – like the Commonwealth itself. Conducting the first-ever independent Family Review has shown me how rich and complex families are, and how our involvement with the Commonwealth adds to this diversity.
For every country competing over the next few weeks, there are English children who will be excited to see their families and backgrounds represented.
I thought I’d end with some quotes on what the Commonwealth means from those children who will feel proud when they see more than one flag in the opening ceremony:
“Going to see my daddy in Australia and having a family of my own.” – Girl, aged 6.
“To live in Canada for a week and come back to see my family to see some old friends.” – Girl, aged 8.
“I am 6 years old and I am a Indian. I like my family. Sometimes I play with my sister.” – Girl, aged 6.
“Seeing my family because I haven’t seen my nan for ages as she lives in Jamaica.” – Girl, aged 7.
“I can go to see my nanny and grandad and go to India or my dad’s hometown [in] Kenya.” – Girl, aged 9.
“No corona virus. Live in New Zealand. Have my own pony.” – Girl, aged 6.
“I’m 13-year-old mixed-race Irish-Nigerian girl living in Greenwich, London.” – Girl, aged 13.
“[I’d become] the president of Nigeria because I would help all the African animals…and help my family members.” – Girl, aged 7.
“If I could change anything to make [my] life better when I grow up it would be to live in Pakistan and keep my family cousins and my friends.” – Girl, aged 7.
“Be in South Africa near most of my [whole] family.” – Girl, aged 8.