The Commonwealth Games have the potential to connect people of different backgrounds despite them being “half a world away”, the Prince of Wales said yesterday as he opened the 21st Commonwealth Games event on behalf of The Queen.
Charles read the monarch’s message to launch the tournament at the Carrera Stadium on Australia’s Gold Coast calling on athletes to come together in the spirit of friendly competition.
Gibraltar athletes marched onto the stadium together with athletes from major nations and tiny Pacific atolls shoulder to soggy shoulder during a vibrant ceremony which celebrated both the region’s indigenous origins and its modern surfing culture.
Veteran triathlon athlete, Gibraltar’s Sportsman of the Year, Chris Walker said after the opening ceremony that walking into the stadium behind the Gibraltar flag was the most wonderful experience.
“The reception we received from the 40,000 strong- crowd was superb. We are all really proud to represent our country and will be doing our best over the next 11 days,” he said.
Shooter Jonathan Patron, selected as the teams flag bearer at the ceremony in front of the 40,000 spectators and knowing the event was being transmitted live across the world with a an estimated global viewing audience of more than one billion.
“It was an amazing experience. I had goose bumps walking out in front of thousands of people carrying the Gibraltar flag. It was one of the most memorable experiences in my life,” he said.
Reegan Lima, CEO of the GSLA, also in Australia with team Gibraltar commented on how it had filled him with “great pride” to see the local athletes marching in as equals with the other teams around The Commonwealth.
“It is obviously bigger than the Island Games we will be hosting next year. But we need to take a leaf out of the Gold Coasts book and try and match their organisation within the context of next year’s Games,” he said.
Mr Reegan arrived with the shooting team just prior to the start of the Games and has since been liaising with the team whilst also taking in how the games are being organised.
The Queen’s message to all those participating in the Games, contained inside the Games baton, said the ancient stories of Australia’s indigenous people “remind us that, even though we may be half a world away, we are all connected”. The Games baton travelled around 70 nations and territories over 388 days, and having started its journey at Buckingham Palace and also calling at Gibraltar.
Camilla, wearing a pale blue silk dress by Anna Valentine, accompanied her husband Prince Charles yesterday to the ceremony, but was not on stage as he delivered the Queen’s message to millions of people watching across the world.
It added: “Over the years, these friendly games have shown the potential of the Commonwealth to connect people of different backgrounds and nationalities.
“In this spirit of co-operation and togetherness, common ground has been established and enduring friendships forged.
“As you come together at the start of these Games, I continue to be inspired by the courage, enthusiasm and dedication of all those taking part.”
A matter of hours earlier, protesters from the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance group had held up the Baton relay for 50 minutes as it neared its final destination. Despite the protests outside, the ceremony drew heavily on Aboriginal culture and symbolism, with 11-year-old Isabella Graham starting the countdown with a message on a smartphone welcoming competitors, officials and fans to the “oldest living culture on Earth”.
Others with less justification continue to dismiss the Commonwealth Games as an increasing anachronism in today’s corporate-fuelled, global sporting age.
Try making such claims to athletes like Tereapii Tapoki, who trained for her shot put and discus disciplines by throwing coconuts back home in her native Cook Islands.
Or the two members of the Kiribati boxing team who have been forced to finish their preparations outdoors because the only boxing ring in their entire country is currently broken.
Only at the Commonwealth Games can septugenarian lawn bowlers mix with the likes of 11-year-old Anna Hursey, who will make her debut for Wales in the table tennis today.
And only at the Commonwealth Games, one can’t help feeling, could England be confused with the Gambia in the official programme, which proclaimed the capital of no less than the head of the Commonwealth herself to be Banjul.
The Games is no stranger to a Royal rumpus: the soon-to-be-disgraced head of the Delhi Games, Suresh Kalmadi, mistook the Duchess of Cornwall for Princess Diana upon being introduced to the couple in 2010.
Mercifully there were no such embarrassing faux-pas on Wednesday night and the initial torrential downpour made way for the kind of early evening warmth with which this area of the Queensland coast is more accustomed.
With many of its venues strung a lifebelt’s throw from the surf and more sun scheduled for the duration, Gold Coast appears to offer all the ingredients necessarily to enrich and sustain the Games in defiance of those who wish to denigrate its importance.
Reeling from its ball-tampering scandal, hosts Australia will seek to use the Games to restore some much-needed sporting dignity and reclaim top spot in the medals table from England, who topped the list in Glasgow for the first time since 1986.
England for their part have brought out their big guns in the likes of Olympic champions Max Whitlock, Adam Peaty and Alistair Brownlee, while professional preparations could yield a virtual clean sweep of gold medals in the boxing ring.
But with respect to those who bring much-needed stardust, it is the sprinkling of athletes from so-called lesser nations who best embody the uniqueness of the Commonwealth Games – and encapsulate why it continues to justify its place on the sporting calendar.
Competition begins today with the men’s and women’s triathlon to be among the first medals awarded.