Bold and beautiful Commonwealth Games open in Birmingham

Singapore’s flag was carried by badminton player Terry Hee and powerlifter Nur ‘Aini Yasli. PHOTO: AFP

BIRMINGHAM - Just like the Be Bold, Be Birmingham branding that is splashed liberally across the English City, the 22nd Commonwealth Games officially opened on Thursday (July 28) in spectacular fashion.

Unlike the muted Tokyo 2020 Olympics opening ceremony that took place in front of empty stands at Japan’s National Stadium, the Alexander Stadium was bursting with 30,000 fans who arrived hours before the 8pm start time to mingle feast on burgers, fries and beer sold from food trucks.

Another noticeable difference is how mask-wearing has now become a rarity in England, as the hosts showed they have moved on from the Covid-19 pandemic with bright smiles and a warm welcome for all comers.

About 1,500 performers wore elaborate costumes and put on a dramatic show about the rich and diverse history, culture and identity of Birmingham and the West Midlands.

Mezzo-soprano Samantha Oxborough gave a rousing rendition of God Save The Queen before Malala Yousafzai, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate who moved to Birmingham after being shot in the head by the Taliban in her native Pakistan, was also warmly applauded for her call for female education.

The city’s famous Bullring and canals, a 10-metre tall bull, Red Arrows fly-past, a union jack made from 72 cars, as well as local pop group Duran Duran and heavy metal band Black Sabbath’s co-founder Tony Iommi all featured in the two-and-a-half hour extravaganza.

In order of Oceania, Africa, Americas, Asia, Carribean, and Europe, representatives from the 72 participating nations strutted their colourful outfits in the athletes’ parade.

Hilariously, while introducing Asia, local comedian Joe Lycett announced: “I’m going to do something now that the British government doesn’t always do and welcome some foreigners.”

Singapore’s flag was carried by badminton player Terry Hee and powerlifter Nur Aini Yasli, but the loudest cheers were reserved for the home country as England marched out to Queen’s We Will Rock You.

The hosts’ past and present sporting greats Tom Daley, Alex Danson, Kim Daybell, Galal Yafai, Max Whitlock, and Denise Lewis then concluded the Queen’s Baton Relay, which started from Buckingham Palace on Oct 7, 2021 and passed through all the participating nations.

Fireworks explode above the the Alexander Stadium during the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games, in Birmingham, England. PHOTO: AFP

Queen Elizabeth, however, was not in attendance as the 96-year-old has mobility issues. 

On her behalf, her eldest son and heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles opened up the baton and read a message from the Monarch: “Over the past 294 days, it has carried not only my message to you, but also the shared hopes and dreams of each nation and territory through which it passed, as it made its way to Birmingham.

“Over the years, the coming together of so many for the ‘Friendly Games’ has created memorable shared experiences, established long standing relationships, and even created some friendly rivalries! 

“But above all they remind us of our connection with one another, wherever we may be in the world, as part of the Commonwealth family of nations.”

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Over the next 11 days, more than 5,000 athletes will be setting 16 venues alight as they compete across 280 events in 20 sports. 

With world-class athletes like Australian swimmer Ariarne Titmus, Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce and English wheelchair racer Hannah Cockroft confirming their participation, these Friendly Games will also be a highly competitive one, and 1.2 million tickets have already been sold.

While their relevance has been questioned, the Commonwealth Games are nevertheless ground-breaking in the quest for equality, especially when the Birmingham Games’ budget stands at £778 million (S$1.3 billion).

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai was warmly applauded as she called at the ceremony for female education. PHOTO: AFP

Nevertheless, they remain the only major Games to include able-bodied and para-athletes on the same programme, with this edition being the first of its kind to award more medals to women (136) than men (134).

Commonwealth Games Federation Dame Louise Martin believed this year’s event will be “one of the greatest and most important editions of the Commonwealth Games in our 92-year history”. 

She added: “We are one family... Our 72 nations and territories, we all speak the same language. There’s no dubiety about the feelings or anything like that. We’re all in this together.

British band Duran Duran revved up the crowd under a canopy of fireworks. PHOTO: AFP

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