GLASGOW, Scotland — Every four years, nations from around the globe compete in the Commonwealth Games. Most of the participating countries are part of the Commonwealth — a group of nations that were once part of the British Empire. This year’s Games — the 20th edition — are in Glasgow, Scotland. More than 4,500 athletes from 71 nations and territories are competing in 17 sports. The Games opened on Wednesday night and run through Aug. 3.
Only A Game’s Doug Tribou is in Glasgow to cover the Games and is keeping a reporter’s notebook while he’s there. See all his updates here.
Scottish hospitality, humor and charity were on display at the opening ceremony for the 20th Commonwealth Games on Wednesday night at Glasgow’s Celtic Park.
Performances by singers Rod Stewart and Susan Boyle and greetings from actor James McAvoy and other Scottish celebrities set the stage for the introductions of the teams from the 71 participating Commonwealth nations. Then Queen Elizabeth II addressed the crowd of approximately 40,000 people to officially open the Games.
Celtic Park is Scotland’s largest soccer stadium and a huge floor was installed over the field. After some entertainment to warm up the crowd, the ceremony opened with an elaborate song-and-dance routine that highlighted Scottish history and attractions. The show included a green, 30-foot-tall Scottish kilt, a massive, oversized half tire set up like an arch (Scots invented the pneumatic tire) that later turned into a section of the Loch Ness Monster, and dozens of performers with golf pull-carts.
Scotland will hold its independence vote on Sept. 18. If the measure passes, Scotland will separate from England and the United Kingdom. As the Queen arrived on the floor in a limo, there was no doubt the crowd would be respectful, but I wondered how enthusiastic the reception would be. I can report that even with that contentious political moment looming, Queen Elizabeth remains a rockstar in Scotland. When she first appeared on the stadium floor for the singing of the British national anthem “God Save the Queen,” some spectators didn’t applaud … because they were too busy taking pictures and videos with their cell phones.
The Queen got a similar reception later in the program when she read her message to the Commonwealth. She wrote it last fall, and the parchment had traveled more than 190,000 km through all 71 nations inside the Queen’s Baton.
Just prior to the Queen’s message, an official asked for a moment of silence to remember those who died on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The seats at Celtic Park automatically fold up when you stand. The sound of seats thumping into the chair backs rolled across the stadium and was followed by one of the quietest moment of remembrance that I’ve ever witnessed at a sporting event.
Throughout the program, video messages recorded in Commonwealth countries all over the world urged people to support UNICEF and the programs it offers for children in underprivileged nations. Ewan McGregor is a UNICEF Ambassador. The evening kicked off with a recorded message from the Scottish actor. Later in the program, the in-person and television audiences were asked to send a text to donate 5 pounds to UNICEF. Multiple media outlets in the U.K., including The Independent, reported that the preliminary tally came in at 2.5 million pounds ($4.25 million).
What really struck me about the ceremony was the sustained and genuine enthusiasm of the primarily Scottish crowd. The athletes from 71 nations were announced and marched around the floor’s rainbow-colored edge. Seventy-one welcomes is asking a lot of an audience. Yet, from India (introduced first as host of the 2010 Games) right through the standing ovation for Team Scotland, each and every group got a rousing round of applause that traveled along the stadium as the athletes made their way to their seats on the center of the floor.
Other odds and ends that got my attention during the ceremony:
- A DJ wove a techno-heavy mix for the hour-plus of introductions, but Australia got a triple shot of AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” Lorde (who might have been a better fit for her native New Zealand) and Aussie legends Men At Work.
- The Queen was accompanied by Prince Philip and the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall — better known as Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. At a couple of moments during the introductions, the Royal party stood and applauded. The only exception: Queen Elizabeth, who remained seated throughout.
- The Queen’s Baton almost ground the ceremony to a halt when it wouldn’t open for Commonwealth Games Federation President Prince Imran of Malaysia as he tried to remove the Queen’s message to the Commonwealth. He needed an assist from Scottish cycling champion Sir Chris Hoy. The Queen looked amused and made some “isn’t it always the way” hand gestures while they sorted things out.
- The scope of what once was the British Empire really comes through when they introduce the Commonwealth nations by their geographic groupings: Europe, Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania. The sun truly never set on the empire.
- Your Commonwealth trivia for today: The smallest nation in the Commonwealth? Norfolk Island (and its athletes got a big cheer).
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