Commonwealth Games 'a beacon of light' says Lewis
- Credit: PA
Denise Lewis believes next year's Commonwealth Games represents a "beacon of light" amid the coronavirus pandemic as Birmingham 2022 unveils Perry the Bull as its official mascot.
Preparations for Birmingham 2022 have been stepped up with the countdown clock now under 500 days.
And Perry - a bull to reflect the city's long association with the animal and covered in multi-coloured hexagons to symbolise the coming together of the Commonwealth - will be the first mascot at any multi-sport Games brought to life through augmented reality.
Perry was inspired by the winning national competition design of 10-year-old Emma Lou, from Bolton, and Facebook and Instagram users will be able to summon an animated 3D version of the mascot into their living rooms and pose for pictures with him.
"I love it," Lewis, the former Olympic and twice Commonwealth Games heptathlon champion, told the Press Association.
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"If anything oozes Birmingham it's got to be the bull, and the multi-coloured hexagonal shapes symbolises the multi-cultural nature of the city and the UK.
"There's a nod to the Jewellery Quarter with a medal around Perry's neck, but let's not forget this is a major Games and the focus on performance is in that as well.
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"We know there's an Olympic Games to get through first - a very different Olympics - but the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham for a lot of people will be the end of what has happened.
"It is a beacon of light, probably a symbolic sign of what we've come through.
"That's my hope. That we are able to come together in a way that reminds us of our old life - communities coming together and hopefully full stadiums."
Perry is named after the Perry Barr area of Birmingham, home of the Alexander Stadium.
The revamped £72million stadium will host the Games' athletics events, as well as opening and closing ceremonies, and house around 30,000 spectators at each session.
Lewis added: "When I think of the changes that particular area is undergoing right now, and what it will eventually look like, I do think I will have a big emotional moment.
"I spent years rushing from Wolverhampton through the city to jump on the 51 or 52 bus to take me into Perry Barr to go training.
"Now we're going to have this state-of-the-art facility and it's going to be magical. The invitation is to come and see, taste and feel the essence of Birmingham. It's become real."
As well as new-look venues, recent change behind the scenes at board level have created a more diverse group of Birmingham 2022 directors.
England netball star Ama Agbeze and four-time karate world champion Geoff Thompson were appointed as non-executive directors last month, taking the number from ethnic minority backgrounds on the 14-strong board to five.
Lewis, president of Commonwealth Games England, said: "There's a whole conversation piece about diversity and inclusion on every level.
"Board level should be reflected in our teams that compete. I'm glad the Birmingham Organising Committee and their board have looked inward despite that they may have been prompted from outside.
"They've had the courage to look inward and make those changes. It's right."
*Perry the bull is the first mascot at a multi-sport games to be created in augmented reality, allowing people to £PoseWithPerry in their own homes.
The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will be held from July 28 to August 8, 2022. Find out more at www.birmingham2022.com.