Paul Blanchard reflects on his seven years as chief executive of Commonwealth Games England after announcing his decision to step down from the role.
When I took up the role of chief executive of Commonwealth Games England seven years ago, nobody could have foreseen some of the challenges that were about to hit the sports industry. Covid completely shook sport upside down; its cruel impact is still being felt by athletes, fans, and federations around the world today.
But I sit here now, ready to step down from my position after much deliberation, having navigated those challenges and having overseen Team England’s highest Commonwealth Games medal haul ever. That fills me with immense pride.
I have worked in the sports industry for more than 25 years, but this role is unique. The diversity of sports and athletes is what drew me to it; with Team England there are so many singular stories, so many different disciplines and skills, and so much history and heritage. Working on a Commonwealth Games cycle was a hugely exciting prospect, but even I didn’t quite comprehend just what Birmingham 2022 would bring to me personally, to our incredible team, and indeed to the nation at large.
I began my tenure with preparations underway for the 2022 Games in Durban. Durban soon became Birmingham, and with it the prospect of a home Games in front of the famous Brummie crowd. We wanted to embrace that, to use it in our favour, and to channel the unique energy of a home crowd into providing our athletes and fans with the best possible Games experience. Team England has such a rich history of success in the Commonwealth Games, and we set out to elevate that even further at Birmingham 2022.
We certainly achieved that goal. Team England’s class of 2022 was our most diverse Games team to date: we had 65 incredible para athletes competing, we celebrated medal-winning athletes ranging from 17 to 74 years old, and for the first time the team had more women than men representing England. 176 medals later, and we had surpassed England’s previous medal record of 174 set at Glasgow in 2014. This was a team to be proud of; determined, successful, representative of England and united by a love for sport.
And, as the world watched our athletes bring it home on the medal podiums, there was another side of Team England working around the clock to deliver our vision. In the run up to the Games, we scaled up from eight full-time employees to an army of 250 staff and volunteers. These people made our Games happen. They told our stories, took our photos, designed our venues, supported our athletes’ needs, designed and provided our kit, and so much more. From the moment we all descended on Birmingham, the city was awash with the red and white of Team England and the team behind the team were another source of huge pride this summer.
I won’t forget the atmosphere in the Alexander Stadium and at our venues across Birmingham any time soon. In a summer of success for English sport – especially for women’s sport – we saw people truly embrace the spirit of a fully-integrated Games. We lay down a marker for growth and we created new pathways. Para sport was in the spotlight in ways we haven’t seen before, and I was delighted to see new sports and formats welcomed to the programme by fans, broadcasters and the media. For many of our athletes, Birmingham was just the start of their journey and I believe there are now more opportunities and pathways to future success for the next generation.
The dust has now settled but we are not standing still. There’s a Youth Games next year to prepare for, and the 2026 Commonwealth Games will be here before we know it. I firmly believe that our achievements this summer will only make that future even brighter and, although I won’t be part of the group delivering it, I will always feel a part of Team England.
I will be passing the baton on to the next chief executive of Commonwealth Games England, but I will always retain my pride and gratitude for what we achieved in this Games cycle.