Birmingham opening ceremony breathes life into doomed Games

Published July 30, 2022
PAKISTAN’S activist for female education Malala Yousafzai speaks during the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games at Alexander Stadium.—AFP
PAKISTAN’S activist for female education Malala Yousafzai speaks during the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games at Alexander Stadium.—AFP

BIRMINGHAM: A Common­wealth Games that once appeared doomed exploded into life with a dazzling opening ceremony on Thursday that put a modern spin on a sporting event often seen as a relic of the British Empire’s colonial past.

Ten years after the 2012 London Olympics it was Birmingham’s moment in the spotlight, although a smaller one, as Prince Charles, reading a message on behalf of The Queen contained in a Baton that had travelled through all 72 nations and regions of the Commonwealth, declared the Games open.

No one could deny Birmingham for giving itself a massive pat on the back for taking on the responsibility of staging the 2022 Games after Durban, South Africa was stripped of hosting duties for failing to deliver on promises made in its bid.

Instead of the usual six-seven years to prepare, Birmingham had four and that challenge was multiplied by the arrival of Covid-19.

While the pandemic forced the delay of an Olympics and an Asian Games, Birmingham pushed ahead, delivering on its promise of an on time, on budget project.

“I’m a Brummy and this is a great city founded by people who just got on with,” said Birmingham 2022 chair John Crabtree. “People just go on with it, that’s why we’re here frankly. Birmingham is a modest city that would like to have the spotlight on it for just a bit.”

For one night at least, Birmingham got its due as 30,000 spectators packed into renovated Alexander Stadium to take in a slick show that would match up against any Olympic production. Organisers say it was watched by over a billion people.

The opening ceremony at the revamped Alexander Stadium paid tribute to the industrial heritage of the city and celebrated the diversity of its modern make-up.

Prince Charles arrived with his wife Camilla in his personal Aston Martin during a segment highlighting Birmingham’s rich history of motor manufacturing.

Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, who moved to the city after surviving a Pakistani Taliban assassination attempt when she was 15 and spent part of her recovery in Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, also had message.

“Every child deserves the chance to reach her full potential and pursue her widest dreams,” she told the audience.

Prince Charles declared the Games open as Duran Duran got the party started to a backdrop of fireworks across the city.

The relevance of the quadrennial Commonwealth Games — first held in 1930 as the British Empire Games — has come under scrutiny, with persistent questions over Britain’s colonial legacy.

Several Commonwealth nations, including Barbados and Jamaica, have either removed Queen Elizabeth II as head of state or have signalled they intend to do so.

But British sports minister Nigel Huddleston is adamant there is still a place for the event in the sporting landscape.

“The Commonwealth still has resonance and value, particularly in a diverse city like Birmingham where there’s a lot of people who have come from the Commonwealth,” he said in the build-up to the Games.

“It does have meaning,” he said. “It might not be what it was in the past but it’s evolving and changing, and that focus on values and what can unite us is key.”

Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2022

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