The ‘Build a West Midlands Velodrome’ campaign started in 2017. Its aim was to have a competition-level indoor velodrome built in Birmingham in time for the 2022 Commonwealth Games. It soon became clear that this was not possible: decision makers were not prepared to back a fourth competition velodrome in the UK. So now we’re pushing for a lower cost training and development velodrome for the West Midlands as a legacy of the games.
If and when it’s built, the expectation is that it will consist of a standard 250m wooden track with 42 degree bankings for track cycling. It will also allow for a range of indoor sports and para-sports.
There will be a fleet of track bikes, balance bikes for ‘learn to ride’ and helmets and cycle shoes to make the velodrome accessible to everyone. Schools will be encouraged to use the venue so all children will have the opportunity to ride on a world class track, including children from low income families and ethnic minority backgrounds who seldom compete in cycle racing. We will make track cycling inclusive for everyone, not just those who can afford to travel many miles to their nearest velodrome. The velodrome will include cycling for fun and for health as well as for those aspiring to become champions.
In contrast to the 2012 London Olympic Games, the Birmingham Commonwealth Games is being staged with an eye on keeping capital expenditure to a relatively modest scale. The only new facility will be the aquatics centre in Sandwell and there will be a much needed upgrade of Alexander Park athletics stadium. After the games, both arenas will become first class venues to serve their local communities and will host smaller sporting events afterwards.
Track cycling is enormously popular and many cyclists were incredibly excited when Birmingham was confirmed as the city to stage the 2022 Commonwealth Games. But little was said about the track cycling and eventually it was announced that it will be held in the Lee Valley Velodrome, London, because Birmingham does not have adequate facilities. Lee Valley seats 6,000 spectators and is probably the finest indoor velodrome in the world.
How it started
In 1976, I was riding for Halesowen Cycling Club and won my first selection for the Birmingham division team in the Tour of Ireland race. Later that year, at the club dinner prize presentation I recall a speech made by Jim Saddler, chair of the West Midlands Sports Council. He announced that the first ever indoor velodrome for the UK was going to be built in Sandwell.
How it’s going
Of course, that never happened. I eventually found out why but it’s a story for another day. Even the late Tommy Godwin (who won two cycling bronze medals for Britain in the 1948 London Olympic Games) couldn’t get it done. Tommy had set his heart on having a velodrome to replace the outdoor track at Salford Park but his pleas to those in power fell on deaf ears.
What a disaster for cycling in the West Midlands.
A golden opportunity
When Birmingham was confirmed as the host of the 2022 games we knew the time had come. The games provide a golden opportunity and, thanks to the formation of the West Midlands Combined Authority, we now have a mayor to champion our region.
In January 2018, we opened a petition.
Brian Cookson OBE, the former president of Union Cyclist International (the world governing body for cycling) wrote a forward to the petition explaining why he felt Birmingham should have its own velodrome.
We compiled a booklet to explain the campaign, together with the ‘velodrome addendum document’ which included information about the concept, options and costings and many letters of support. Tour de France legend Greg LeMond wrote some supportive comments, as did Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson
Fellow campaigner Richard Roach, an orthopaedic surgeon, wrote a paper, ‘Health Benefits of Velodromes’. A further member of the campaign team, Sam Henry, is a member of the BC West Midlands Board responsible for inclusion & diversity. Together with playwright Junior Douglas, we have formed the ‘Major Taylor Initiative’ which aims to tell the story of the first ever black cycling world champion in 1899 and to develop more diversity in cycling.
It is important to stress that the Birmingham Commonwealth Games Organising Committee has had no say as to whether a West Midlands velodrome should have been built. British Cycling has been reluctant to give their official backing. Together with Sport England, they commissioned a technical review looking at how future indoor velodromes can be built at more affordable costs. This review has been due to be published for some time.
A new local champion
In 2021, the campaign received its biggest vote of confidence when mayor Andy Street included support for a velodrome in his election manifesto. Since his re-election, Mr Street has been as good as his word. He has already taken the first steps in making the business case.
As campaigners, we are confident that the Birmingham Commonwealth Games will prove to be the most golden of golden opportunities. We believe that the West Midlands will get the legacy velodrome it deserves.