Glasgow: Sachin Tendulkar and Bollywood music provided the Indian connect as Scotland ushered in the 20th Commonwealth Games with a dazzling and colourful opening ceremony which celebrated the country's culture and heritage to set the ball rolling for the 11-day sporting extravaganza. Welcoming over 4500 athletes from 71 Commonwealth nations, the ceremony had its share of sombre moments when silence was observed for the 298 victims of the Malaysian Airlines flight which was shot down over Ukraine last week.
A surprisingly subdued Glasgow suddenly sprang to life and exuberance with a three-hour mesmerising show of light and sound and colourful hues which the organisers claimed was watched by more than one billion people. As per convention, the head of Commonwealth countries Queen Elizabeth II declared the Games Open. "It is my greatest pleasure to declare the 20th Commonwealth Games open" Her Majesty said under a blue Glasgow sky to signal Scotland's third CWG and first after 1986 when Duke of Edinburgh played host.
Commonwealth Games opening ceremony at Glasgow. Pic/ AFP
A host of dignitaries including British Prime Minister David Cameron, Scottish government's first minister Alex Salmond and Commonwealth Games Federation President Prince Imran Tunku also added to the start of Scotland's biggest sporting event which is estimated to have cost the host country around USD one billion. Britain's most successful Olympian cyclist and a Scot himself, Sir Chris Hoy was given the honour of presenting the Queens Baton to Her Majesty who read out her message to the Commonwealth before declaring open the Games to be competed for 11 days among 4929 athletes from 71 nations and territories of the erstwhile British Empire.
India got some attention with cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar turning up in a brief video clip, urging people to donate for the improvement of the living condition of children throughout the world in his role as the Global Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF which partnered with Glasgow 2014 in a first-of-its-kind initiative. The Indian contingent headed by flag-bearer and Olympic silver medallist shooter Vijay Kumar led the Parade of Nations, by virtue of being hosts in 2010 Delhi edition. The the men looked dapper in black blazers and Gray trousers along with headgear while the women athletes were dressed in saris. The 35,000 capacity Celtic stadium cheered as the Indians entered to the tune of popular Bollywood numbers.
England also got a rousing welcome despite the Games being held a few months before the Scottish vote on September 18 to decide whether they will remain a part of United Kingdom or become a separate nation. The host contingent, dressed in their traditional attire and walking under their flag Saltire, understandably got a deafening reception while coming in last. With the packed crowd joining in singing and dancing along with the exuberant volunteers and even the athletes, the laser lights beamed the colours of the national flags of the participating countries in the nearly 50-minute Parade of Nations setting the stadium in different hues. The centrepiece of the opening ceremony, produced by global specialists of such events Jack Morton Worldwide, was the near-100m wide and 11m high LED screen erected in front of the South Stand at Celtic Park to broadcast images on the night.
The installation of the giant LED screen, touted to be the largest used in Europe for such events, led to the reduction of the stadium capacity from 40,000 to 35,000. The turf of the home of Scotland's famous football club Celtic was completely covered by wooden flooring for the opening ceremony which saw more than 2,000 volunteers taking part in it.
The ceremony was broadcast live on BBC. The vibrant show began with a montage called Glasgow's countdown, with a graffiti of number 14 shown on the screen to mark the 2014 Games. It was given the name 'Glasgow Countdown' because it was made by the people of the city. After the city, the host country decided to enjoy a laugh at its own expense as it presented 100 things about being Scottish in an eight and a half minute segment called the 'Kingdom of the Scots' with Scottish comedian Karen Dunbar and Glasgow-born actor John Barrowman taking part in it.
The Loch Ness monster, Glasgow's history of ship-building and the Forth Rail Bridge also featured in the act, which also celebrated the great Scottish inventions. Having depicted all about Glasgow and Scotland, it was now time to think about the world. Karen Dunbar came out once again to welcome the lively and celebrating crowd before cutaways of Glasgow Green, QBR approaching Glasgow and cheering to the athletes were shown in a one and a half section. The stage was then set for an exhilarating music and song with Glaswegian singer Amy Macdonald singing Rod Stewart's 'Rhythm of My Heart' before the rock legend joined himself to the deafening cheer of the spectators.
The flags of 2010 host India, current host Scotland and next edition host Australia were shown together on the giant LED screen before CGF chief Imran Tunku, 2014 Glasgow chairman Lord Smith of Kelvin and chief executive Michael Cavanagh was called on the centre of Main Performance Arena. It was then that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, who made a dramatic entry into the stadium along with the Duke of Edinburgh in her Royal car after Susan Boyle's 'Mull of Kintyre' number gave way to the 'Pipe and Drums' of the Scottish Regiment.
As the Royal car went on a guard of honour with Pipes and Drums and Braemar Ensemble lining up both sides, nine hawks of the Red Arrows flew overhead in a spectacular V-formation trailing blue and white smoke. The athletes then arrived led by Scottish terriers as team name-bearers along with their handlers followed by flag bearers. India came out first being the host of the last edition as the Asian countries entered the stadium first followed by those from Oceania, Africa, Caribbean, Americas and Europe with host country Scotland coming out last.
Rod Stewart then performed 'Can't Stop Me Now' for the athletes and then walked down off the stage to perform among the athletes. The UNICEF Global Ambassadors then urged the people to donate for the improvement of the living conditions of the children before a message recorded by the crew of the International Space Station was played on the main screen. The CGF flag was brought in with Scottish violinist virtuoso Nicola Benedetti playing a short cadenza.
South African singer Pumeza sang 'Freedom Come All Ye" before Scottish actor Billy Connolly spoke via video Glasgow's relationships with Nelson Mandela. Libby Clegg, world medallist athlete with a visual impairment took the oath on behalf of athletes while Donald McIntosh, coach and manager of record-breaking Scottish shooting team in 2020 Delhi CWG, and wrestling technical official Victor Keelan doing the same on behalf of the technical officials.
First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond, Leader of Glasgow City Council Gordon Matheson and CGF chief Prince Imran Tunku gave brief speeches before the Queens Baton was brought in to the stadium by Jennica Sterling, a 12-year-old girl from Jamaica. 32 grassroot volunteers held the Baton turn by turn and took it towards the Royal Box.
Britain's most famous athlete Sir Chris Hoy was handed the Baton by his wheel-chair borne 97-year-old uncle Andy Coogan who inspired him to take up cycling and who used to run at the Celtic Park in the days when it had athletics during half time of football matches. Sir Hoy presented the Baton to CGF chief Prince Imran who struggled for a while in taking out the piece of paper on which the Queens message was written. Her Majesty then read out the message to the Commonwealth before declaring the Games opened.