BIRMINGHAM: British pop giants Duran Duran headlined a glitzy Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Birmingham on Thursday as more than 5,000 athletes braced for battle.
Competitors from 72 nations and territories, many of which are former British colonies, will be vying for medals in 19 sports over a jam-packed 11 days in the English Midlands.
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, said every child deserves the chance to “pursue her wildest dreams”.
Prince Charles declared the Games open as Duran Duran got the party started to a backdrop of fireworks across the city.
– Australia pool power –
Away from the marquee athletics and swimming events, women´s Twenty20 cricket makes its debut at the 22nd Games and 3×3 basketball will feature for the first time.
There is an integrated para sports programme in some events in Birmingham, which stepped in for the South African city of Durban, originally chosen to host the Games.
Sporting powerhouse Australia have topped the medals table at every Games since 1990 except in 2014, when England finished top in Glasgow — the last time the event was held on British soil.
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete as separate teams during the Commonwealths rather than as a combined British outfit.
In the pool, Emma McKeon, Ariarne Titmus, Kaylee McKeown and teenage sensation Mollie O´Callaghan will lead the charge for a star-studded Australian team when competition starts on Friday.
Double Olympic champion Titmus, 21, opted out of the recent world championships in Budapest to keep herself fresh for Birmingham.
McKeon, 28, who won seven medals — including four golds — at last year´s Olympics in Tokyo, boasts a phenomenal Commonwealth Games record, with eight gold and four bronze medals in two appearances.
Headlining for England will be breaststroke superstar Adam Peaty, who missed Budapest with a foot injury, denying him the chance to claim his fourth consecutive 50m-100m world double.
Peaty, 27, is determined to break his own 100m world record of 56.88 seconds.
“I wouldn´t be swimming now if I knew I couldn´t break a world record again,” he said. “It´s just not enough for me to stay in the sport and win and win and win.”
– Calendar clash –
The Commonwealth Games come hot on the heels of the world athletics championships in Eugene, Oregon, which only finished on Sunday.
The worlds were rescheduled from last year after the coronavirus pandemic forced a delay to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics but that has created a headache for athletes in a crowded schedule.
Olympic champions Andre De Grasse, Kirani James and Neeraj Chopra will be absent from Birmingham.
Jamaican sprint star Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who won a fifth 100m world title in Oregon, will also be missing.
Shericka Jackson and Elaine Thompson-Herah, who finished second and third in the 100m in Eugene, have been named in Jamaica´s team, though there are doubts over whether multiple Olympic champion Thompson-Herah will travel.
Australian high jumper Eleanor Patterson and javelin thrower Kelsey-Lee Barber will arrive as newly minted world champions.
Scotland´s Jake Wightman, who shocked Norway´s Jakob Ingebrigtsen to win 1,500m gold in the United States, will also be a big draw.
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.”