Scottish influence helps Commonwealth Games kick off in style

·5-min read
Duran Duran, Black Sabbath and a mechanical bull: The opening ceremony to the Commonwealth Games had it all

By Tom Harle at the Alexander Stadium

The world was never the same after a Brummie first lured a Scot to his proud, punkish place.

Now they’ve done it again.

In 1763 James Watt was a genius without a patron.

The Greenock man invented the condenser, in one fell swoop making steam engines more powerful, efficient and of course cheaper - he was a Scot after all.

The problem was the iron workers of the day couldn’t keep up with his innovation and Watt’s major patron went bankrupt, forcing him to go back to the shop floor himself.

Enter Matthew Boulton, who lured Watt to the West Midlands with the handsome Soho Foundry facility and some of the best iron workers in the world.

It was a partnership that turned the tide of history, one of the biggest single interventions in the Industrial Revolution.

A few centuries later Birmingham was dancing to Scottish tune once again at the Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games.

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted parts of the first segment, Call to Gather, inviting 72 nations to come and play to the beat of African sakura drums.

Birmingham doesn’t big itself up but on this night it found it was rather good at it.

A guitar solo from Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi didn’t hurt and four Duran Duran bangers sent the 30,000-plus crowd home happy.

Once the ‘City of 1000 Trades’, Birmingham’s unparalleled industrial history shone through. The opening scene featured 72 vintage cars with direct links to the city.

From behind the wheel of a soft-top convertible emerged Prince Charles with the Duchess of Cornwall, Red Arrows overhead, a moment of pure pageantry.

The most striking visual image was a 10m high Raging Bull.

It romped around the Alexander Stadium for about 20 minutes while being caressed by a suffragette. Go figure - but Twitter loved it.

Star Team England athletes Tom Daley, Max Whitlock and Denise Lewis were among those to carry the Queen’s Baton into the stadium with Prince Charles declaring the Games open.

“That was some ceremony,” said Lenny Henry, a reassuring presence. “Or else I had the wrong kind of mushrooms on my toast this morning.”

Let’s not forget these are Games with a Brummie soul but with Scottish fingerprints all over it.

Running the show is Commonwealth Games Federation President Dame Louise Martin and Iain Reid, CEO of the organising committee.

Martin and Reid will preside over the last Games of such scale and grandeur with the sporting programme set to contract significantly in 2026.

Only athletics and swimming will be compulsory when Victoria hosts in four years’ time with four hubs in the region, hours apart, set to fundamentally change the nature of the beast.The Commonwealth of Nations itself is more fragile and diffuse than ever.

Without the Games’ unifying power it might not have a reason to exist, and Birmingham could yet offer a timely boost.

Barbados removed the Queen as Head of State last year and Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda are mulling doing the same.

More than half of Canadians polled in 2021 said they did not want the country to continue to be a constitutional monarchy.

“We are one family,” insisted Dame Louise.

“Our 72 nations, we all speak the same languages. We’re all in this together. If you go into the Village and see the athletes together, it’s family, that’s how we speak and how we see each other.

“I find it strange. Some people talk about colonialism, all the different breakdowns. Yes, people want independence but people still want to be a part of the Commonwealth Games.

“We’re unique because we’re holding everyone together.”

The nation’s flag was carried into the stadium by Kirsty Gilmour and Micky Yule, standard-bearers for a changing Scotland.

Gilmour was the first openly gay athlete to be given the honour and Yule the first Paralympian.

After stepping on a grenade in Palestine, Yule was flown back to Birmingham Airport and ‘patched up’ by nurses at the city’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

The hospital also treated Malala Yousafzai, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate who moved to Birmingham to recover after being shot in the head by the Taliban.

Malala’s speech was one of the highlights, a clarion call to the youth of the Commonwealth.

“I came to the city and I had never heard its name,” she said. “But I learnt about it through Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

A memorable speech ended: "Every child deserves a future. Every child deserves the chance to pursue her wildest dreams."

Athletes start to pursue their dreams tomorrow with 260 Scottish athletes front and centre.

40% of Brummies are under 25, it is the youngest city in the Commonwealth. It feels like a Games for the Covid generation, for athletes denied opportunities, and their chance to shine.

These are next Micky Yules, the next Tony Iommis, the next James Watts, the hope that one day those dreams might come true.

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