Following our 2019 General Assembly in Rwanda earlier this month, I can say with real confidence that the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) is in an extremely strong place.
The Assembly provided an opportunity for the Commonwealth nations and territories to reflect on our numerous collective successes while looking ahead at how we can capitalise on the exciting opportunities that lie ahead.
What we achieved at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games last year remains a huge source of pride for our membership.
"The Games of Firsts" saw the first medals for five Commonwealth islands and small states, a first-of-its-kind Reconciliation Action Plan and an equal number of medals for men and women, another global first for sporting equality.
As Commonwealth Games Australia highlighted in Rwanda, the positive legacy story from Gold Coast 2018 is another real success with the official Post Games Report revealing the Games have delivered an AUD$2.5 billion (£1.3 billion/$1.7 billion/€1.6 billion) regional economic boost. It is a strong platform that the region is unsurprisingly looking to capitalise on, as Queensland explores a potential bid for the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Since I first had the honour of being elected as President of the CGF in 2015, there have been two successful Commonwealth Youth Games, Samoa 2015 and Bahamas 2017.
Meanwhile, the roll out of our Transformation 2022 Strategic Plan has made a positive impact on our Games Delivery Model, where we now have a fully integrated approach with the Organising Committee.
While Rwanda was the perfect opportunity to celebrate stories like these, the gathering at the Kigali Convention Centre was about looking forwards to the next four years.
I was honoured and privileged to be re-elected as President for a second four-year term by our membership and I am hugely excited when I think about our future. The next Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022 was one of the key topics discussed in Rwanda and we were fortunate to have Commonwealth Games England chairman Ian Metcalfe and Organising Committee chief executive Ian Reid provide an update on preparations.
With just under three years to go, Birmingham 2022 has all the ingredients to be a great success.
Last month, we saw Women's T20 cricket, beach volleyball and Para-table tennis confirmed on the Birmingham 2022 sports programme.
This means that the Games will have the largest-ever female and Para-sport programme in history. There will also be two more women's medal events than men at the Games; the first time a major multi-sport event will feature more women's than men's medal events.
With Birmingham 2022 having recently launched their new brand and with several community-focused projects in place to engage the West Midlands, the whole country and the entire Commonwealth, I know that Birmingham 2022 will host a Games for everyone.
Prior to Birmingham 2022, we have the Trinidad and Tobago 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games. Having been awarded the event in June this year, the Assembly heard that preparations are now underway and that colour, flair and carnival will be at the very heart of everything they do.
I have no doubt Trinidad and Tobago 2021 has the potential to deliver a spectacular multi-sport event that will showcase the very best of the Caribbean. I look forward to visiting Trinidad and Tobago this week, where I will be spending time supporting preparations for the event.
As part of our forward-looking approach, the membership approved the Transformation 2022 Refresh strategic plan for 2019 to 2022 to provide a clear roadmap for the next four years while we formally showcased the new Commonwealth sport brand for the very first time in Rwanda.
Positive discussions took place on the Birmingham 2022 athlete allocation process, our new digital strategy and embedding human rights into the work of Commonwealth Games Associations.
The General Assembly also approved resolutions to increase gender equality across the leadership of our Movement.
It was very poignant that these conversations took place in Rwanda, the youngest member of the Commonwealth, having joined our family of nations in 2009. It is very emotional to think that the Commonwealth, and indeed sport, has played such an important role in strengthening and rebuilding this country following the terrible genocide in 1994 against the Tutsi.
The people of Rwanda welcomed us with open arms, and we could not have been more grateful. The country will undoubtedly be an excellent host of the prestigious Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting when it hosts the event next year.
One of my personal highlights while visiting "The Land of a Thousand Hills" was to have the honour of being part of a special gorilla naming ceremony. At the ceremony, baby mountain gorillas are named by dignitaries, celebrities and leaders in conservation.
The event's main goal is to bring national and international attention to the importance of protecting mountain gorillas. Inspired by the achievements of all Commonwealth athletes, I named my gorilla "Uruti", meaning heroism.
I was asked by the media what comes next for Rwanda. I made it very clear that I would love to see a Commonwealth Youth Games take place in the country. They have everything in place to stage a superb competition for the young people of the Commonwealth and I hope we can work closely with Rwanda to make this happen in the future.
Our family from the Bahamas suffered great devastation as a result of Hurricane Dorian and sadly could not join us in Rwanda. A painful experience for us all at the General Assembly. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Commonwealth Sport Movement remain with the Bahamas and we will be working to support our brothers and sisters in the region in every way that we can to help support them.
What I saw in Rwanda as I spoke with our membership is that personal connections and relationships remain at the heart and soul of our Movement. More than ever, our collective success depends heavily on individual and shared respect, openness, commitment, responsibility and, of course, mutual friendship.
Athlete activism and empowerment is beginning to emerge on issues concerning safeguarding, welfare, wellbeing, protection of human rights and the personal exploitation of intellectual property.
Sporting organisations are continuously being challenged with achieving the right balance between being athlete-centered and sport-focused; protecting the inspirational power and pathway opportunities afforded to athletes and, at the same time, maintaining competitively fair, commercially viable and socially relevant events that are affordable and have global appeal. We must and we will rise to these challenges.
I am so proud of the Commonwealth Sport Movement and inspired by every individual working in it. I believe we can collectively deliver on our refreshed strategy so that through sport, we can build peaceful, sustainable and prosperous communities across the Commonwealth.