Birmingham opened its Commonwealth Games in spectacular style with a captivating, hopeful ceremony at Alexander Stadium.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai emphasised the importance of education in a surprise appearance while diver
Tom Daley made a show of support for LGBTQ+ rights as the baton relay concluded.
But the biggest shock perhaps came when a 10m tall animatronic bull came steaming into the stadium as part of a ceremony that celebrated the multiculturalism of both Birmingham and the Commonwealth.
As the parade of athletes concluded, each of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales were warmly received before host nation England arrived in a cloud of confetti to send the volume sky-rocketing with a crowd rendition of We Will Rock You.
The Games are officially open, with events beginning on Friday and more than 5,000 athletes representing 72 nations and territories competing in 280 medal events until 8 August.
In its opening ceremony partly masterminded by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight and which organisers said would be watched by more than a billion people worldwide, Birmingham put down an early marker for what it wants to offer the sporting world over the next 11 days.
Malala and Daley were not the only ones to call for social change during the event and a mile out from Alexander Stadium, signs hanging by the road read “sport is just the beginning”.
The ceremony alluded to the darker side of the Commonwealth’s past, with chains representing those used in the slave trade pulling the giant bull into the stadium.
But it also called for togetherness for a group of nations whose future is becoming increasingly uncertain, with competing nation Barbados already having replaced the Queen as its head of state and Jamaica’s prime minister saying it will be “moving on”.
Daley has previously spoken out against Commonwealth countries that criminalise same sex relationships and the diver has continued that work in a new BBC documentary.
He brought the cause into the stadium too, with the Olympic champion entering the stadium flanked by activists holding LGBT+ flags as he played his part in the Queen’s baton relay shortly before the Games were officially declared open.
The weight of legacy hung in the air before the ceremony even began, as Birmingham residents flooded to the stadium to celebrate their city being at the centre of a global event.
Some have questioned the Commonwealth Games’ relevance in an increasingly packed sporting calendar and the £778m cost, but that message did not seem to have reached the many fans queueing to get in before the Alexander Stadium gates opened.
The ceremony, in front of 30,000, began with a call for unity: “In times of darkness, we carry a dream of light that calls us all to gather.”
An intense, drum-led opening sequence reached a crescendo and gave way to a host of red, white, and blue cars driving into the stadium.
They formed a Union Jack before a classic Aston Martin brought Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall into the arena.
The surrealism of a stadium full of cars was soon supplanted by a four-metre-high puppet of William Shakespeare entering.
Author: Linda .R. Jones