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Commonwealth Games: Birmingham puts on captivating opening ceremony

The Commonwealth Games were opened with a spectacular fireworks display
Hosts: Birmingham Dates: 28 July to 8 August
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV with extra streams on BBC iPlayer, Red Button, BBC Sport website and BBC Sport mobile app; Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live and Sports Extra; live text and clips online.

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 skyrocketing 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 across 19 sports and 280 medal events until 8 August.

A call for social change

In its opening ceremony partly masterminded by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, Birmingham lay down an early marker for what it wants to offer the sporting world over the next 12 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”.

There will likely be more to come given athletes have been told that, unlike at the Olympics, they can use their platform to protest against social injustice at these Games.

Tom Daley
Diver Tom Daley carried the Queen’s Baton into the stadium towards the end of the opening ceremony

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.

A surreal Shakespeare puppet and dancing cars

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 but that message did not seem to have reached the many fans queueing to get in before the Alexander Stadium gates opened.

The ceremony 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.

It was a ceremony of light and shade, switching suddenly between uplifting sequences to moments of rage and turmoil.

A joyful – and slightly bizarre – moment with Shakespeare and three other giant puppets turned darker as a tower at the end of the stadium was engulfed in images of flames to symbolise a library that burnt down with a collection of Shakespeare’s works inside.

Then Malala – who became a Birmingham resident after receiving treatment there when she was shot by the Taliban as a teenager in Pakistan – entered the stadium to the largest cheer of the night.

She spoke as passionately as always about children, particularly girls, having access to education before welcoming the crowd to Birmingham.

Bull rages, then dances

Nothing demonstrated the move between light and dark more than the moment Drag Race star Ginny Lemon’s song celebrating Birmingham’s pioneering achievements came to an end as a giant raging bull entered the stadium – passing the spotlight from one icon to another.

The bull was tamed by the ceremony’s leading star Stella, who then climbed on top and rode it around the stadium to swelling music before Birmingham’s favourite son Sir Lenny Henry interrupted proceedings to welcome 72 teams of excited athletes into the arena.

England were the last to come in, with the crowd’s singing making their entrance all the more intimidating.

Daley then entered to finish off the baton relay along with other English favourites including hockey player Alex Danson and gymnast Max Whitlock.

Prince Charles opened the Games as he read a message from the Queen calling Birmingham “a pioneering city… symbolic of the rich diversity and unity of the Commonwealth”.

Fireworks followed as LED lights lit up in the crowd and Birmingham’s own Duran Duran entered to bring the party to an end as the giant bull swayed its head to the beat.

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