Game on in Staffordshire

Richard John travels to Staffordshire to witness a major sporting event

It was a chance meeting at International Confex between the organisers of the Corporate Games and Keele University that led to the event happening in Stoke just 15 months later.

When announcing Staffordshire as the host of the games, the organisers cited the versatility to accommodate the demands of the four-day event, as well as venues being large enough to host thousands of competitors from Britain’s businesses, including the availability of 2,000 bedrooms.

The first World Corporate Games were held in San Francisco in 1988. Other nations were swift to follow, and in 2004 the first UK Corporate Games were held in Belfast. Since then the event has been held annually in numerous locations across the UK.

The Games offer a host of individual and team sports, although the more aggressive contact sports – such as boxing – rarely appear; think poker, softball and bowling instead.

The various Staffordshire locations attracted more than 4,000 delegates from over 100 companies. In between some large international organisations (Sony, Air Products) and famous UK names (Bentley, Rathbones) are large local companies, such as Portmeirion, and the university itself. They were joined by teams from the NHS, the police and the armed forces.

Of course, such an event means great business for the region. Cllr Mark Winnington, cabinet member for economy at Staffordshire County Council said: “We already know what a fantastic place Staffordshire is to live, work and invest in and this is a great way of letting the business world know what we have to offer.”

True enough – but the economic evidence is even more hard-hitting. Jude Taylor, the council’s sportshire coordinator, pointed out that the 4,000 competitors were expected to bring an estimated £2.5m to the Staffordshire economy in the process.

She pointed out that two weeks earlier, the region had hosted an Ironman challenge, which also delivered a major economic and marketing impact. Then she donned a wetsuit and participated in the open water competition. Ah well, gotta practise what you preach!

Despite the large numbers of participants, the Corporate Games organisers have two decades of experience to make sure the registration process was slick and swift.

Even a major incident on the M6, which delayed many competitors, was swiftly dealt with. And the various venues across the city, including Keele and Staffordshire universities, easily swallowed up the crowds; anticipated traffic problems disappeared, and movement and parking were never an issue.

Doug White, global partnership director at UK Corporate Games, said: “We have been fortunate enough to stage games all around the world, but when you consider the tremendous outdoor facilities at Keele, the massive indoor capacity at Fenton Manor, the impressive facilities at Newcastle College and the beauty of Trentham Gardens, in addition to the central location, we are delighted to say that Staffordshire is a match for any destination.”

Trentham Gardens, often voted one of the most beautiful in the UK, was the perfect backdrop for the popular dragon-boat racing.

The buzz at all events was evident. Most teams took their participation very seriously, with an almost professional commitment; in contrast, the volleyball team from a certain large bank confessed most of them had never played the sport, and a total whitewash in the score did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm. Even the lively Saturday night party, which saw many contenders nursing sore heads, did little to curtail the willingness to participate.

Next year’s games will be in Liverpool, part of the International Festival of Business.

Who says you can’t mix business with pleasure?

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