'Jobsworth' row in legal threat over Commonman Games

Strict officials at the Commonwealth Games are threatening legal action to force a harmless series of bar games held in city centre pubs to change its name.

The Commonman Games poster
The Commonman Games poster

What was known as the Commonman Games, organised in Birmingham city centre's entertainment district by Westside Business Improvement District, is now having to consider changing its name to the (un)Commonman Games.

The Commonman Games was unveiled nearly a month ago as a selection of events that anyone could take part in free of charge to help celebrate Birmingham hosting the Commonwealth Games 2022.

It included contests for the general public such as cashgrabber, football darts, beer pong, shuffleboard and foot pool.

But an official at the Commonwealth Games has now written a stern email to Westside BID with the header ‘Commonman Games - Unauthorised Association’ and marked ‘official’.

Mike Olley, general manager of Westside BID, left, and barman Tom at Walkabout

A letter from Birmingham 2022 said: “Our primary concern is the name of the event.

“Under the Birmingham Commonwealth Games Act 2020 (the ‘Games Act’), a person acting in the course of business may not use any representation in a manner likely to suggest to public that there is an association [with] the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games (the ‘Games’).

“The name ‘Commonman Games’ is similar visually and aurally to ‘Commonwealth Games’, and is being used in relation to a competition due to take place in Birmingham City Centre, on the same dates as the Games.

“This association has not been authorised by the Birmingham Organising Committee for the Commonwealth Games (the “OC”), and therefore amounts to an infringement of the OC’s exclusive rights.

“We therefore cannot allow all of the businesses involved in the delivery of the Commonman Games to benefit from this association.

“We therefore ask that: The name of the event is changed to reduce the association with the Games; and References to the Games on the Westside BID website are removed.”

The letter was preceded by a meeting at the beginning of July at the Commonwealth Games offices – which are on Westside – when Westside BID was confronted by a lawyer acting for the Games. While no legal action has yet commenced, both the lawyer’s conversation and the brand protection manager's letter three weeks later heavily implied this could happen.

But in a bizarre twist, because it has taken the Commonwealth Games officials so long to actually write to Westside BID, the official Games allowed the Commonman Games to launch in all its glory and with its original, unchanged name at the Walkabout Bar on Broad Street on Tuesday.

In the official email, the official says: “Apologies for the delay in getting this across to you – we needed to discuss it with a couple of teams internally. We appreciate that the first event is tonight (Tuesday), and therefore ask that the action points suggested above are actioned following tonight’s event but ahead of the next event.”

Mike Olley, general manager of Westside BID, said: “The word ‘jobsworth’ is a very hurtful word and so I am always very reluctant to attach such a description to anyone’s job role.

“But to receive an official email entwined with such strict legal references about a series of events in pubs and bars that are akin to a game of bar skittles is probably the silliest communications I have ever received.”

Gerald Manton, chairman of Westside BID, said: “Our Commonman Games isn't a competition, it's just a bit of fun. While we have a leader board at each location showing that day’s high scores, everyone who completes each and every challenge receives a medal, irrespective of a score.

“What we may well now have to call the (un)Commonman Games was only ever conceived to honour and respect the real and massive Commonwealth Games, along with all the serious sports that involves.

“Our whole intention was merely to be inclusive of staff and customers in and around the golden mile of Broad Street, giving them a bit of fun and triggering them to think about the great athletes performing in our city.

“We will, of course, take the Commonwealth Games’ email seriously, as we have no desire to be taken to court which would be a waste of time and money for all involved.

“But how daft is it that this may well now result in us having to call our fun little series of bar events the (un)Commonman Games, by official instruction of the Organising Committee of the Commonwealth Games.!”

Mr Olley added that, like the Commonwealth Games officials, he would now need to discuss the issue “with a couple of teams internally” and he apologised in advance for any delays in responding formally to the Games officers.

But he confirmed: “We are now actively considering changing the name of our events to the (un)Commonman Games. This could well be the most efficient and cost-effective solution as all it requires is for us to make the change in marker pen on all our posters and leaflets.

“We will now be arranging the necessary internal meetings as soon as possible and will try to avoid a three-week delay like the one we experienced from the Commonwealth Games.”

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