Dan Palmer

It was a slog, and there were times when I thought I might not make it.

But somehow, someway, I managed to speak to all 72 of the Birmingham 2022 Chefs de Mission before yesterday's Opening Ceremony.

When I first embarked on this challenge around nine months ago, I thought it would be fairly straightforward. 

Surely this would simply be a case of contacting all of the countries and territories, and fixing something in the diary?

Of course, I should have known better. 

Numerous emails, WhatsApp messages and calls went unanswered, and persistence became the name of the game to get these people to speak.

Some interviews were weeks in the making, but every time I managed to complete one it provided a real buzz and a sense of achievement.

A lot of countries did not confirm their Chef de Mission until quite late in the build-up to the Games, meaning I had to play the waiting game.

Of course, as Birmingham 2022 loomed near, it meant that the people I needed to tie down were exceptionally busy and with less free time to speak.

There are 72 countries and territories in the Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images
There are 72 countries and territories in the Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images

But they all gave up varying amounts of their time in the end, and the vast majority provided a fantastic interview.

I blogged about reaching the halfway stage of the project in May and there has been plenty of fascinating insight since then.

I spoke to Tony Edwards in Niue, a former chief of police who was right in the middle of his team's preparations.

As we chatted on Teams, I could see the green where the island's lawn bowlers were hard in training behind him.

Staying in the South Pacific, I had a fascinating chat with Tala Simeti in Tuvalu, a country I have long been fascinated by.

He explained how athletes trained on the international airport runway, as space in this group of atolls is at such a premium.

In Montserrat, Valerie Samuel described what life was like after the volcano blast which has turned the southernmost part of the island into a no-go zone.

Then there was Frederick Acheampong in Ghana, a man I couldn't resist talking about the FIFA World Cup with as he is also an Executive Committee member of the country's football body.

Ghana have been drawn with Uruguay at Qatar 2022 - the country which knocked them out of the South Africa World Cup in 2010 after Luis Suarez's deliberate handball.

Athletes from Tuvalu train on the international airport runway ©Getty Images
Athletes from Tuvalu train on the international airport runway ©Getty Images

Acheampong said Ghana might have won the competition if it wasn't for that moment, with his passion for his side really coming through.

As ever there were also more sombre moments, such as learning about how sport has helped repair Rwanda after the genocide in 1994.

In Sri Lanka, Chef de Mission Major General Dampath Fernando gave up his time when his country seemed to be falling apart.

Protestors had just stormed the Presidential Palace and food and petrol were running out, but he still had 20 minutes to chat sport.

Once again the time zones proved problematic. 

On four or five occasions I stayed up until midnight for an arranged Zoom call that was convenient for the other side of the world, only for the Chef de Mission not to appear and the chat having to be rearranged.

There was one occasion, however, when the no-show was entirely my fault.

My apologies again to New Zealand's Nigel Avery, who agreed to speak with me on a Wednesday morning New Zealand time.

This was of course Tuesday night in the UK, but for some reason I had it in my head that it would be 24 hours later than what was actually planned.

I was instead watching my football team Basingstoke Town get thumped 4-1 in a playoff semi-final in Chertsey, and I have to tell you that speaking to Avery was a far more pleasant way to spend part of an evening.

Dan Palmer's interview with Nigel Avery had to be rescheduled  ©Getty Images
Dan Palmer's interview with Nigel Avery had to be rescheduled ©Getty Images

As an England fan, I will of course be hoping for home nation success at the Commonwealth Games.

But speaking to all these people, and hearing their stories, means I now feel like I have an affinity and connection to the varying teams competing at Birmingham 2022.

The likes of England and Australia will win a hatful of medals, but we will also see smaller nations nicking a bronze and those celebrations will be just as meaningful.

I've always enjoyed raising a glass to the little guy, but this time it will be extra special as I will know the Chef who will be celebrating too, and that means that the nice feeling inside will be extra warm.

A lot of these people are volunteers who give up their time for sport, so they deserve all the success which comes their way.

I just wish they could all win a medal.