To use an often-quoted phrase, reports of the death of the Commonwealth Games have long been grossly exaggerated.
The chorus of cynics fire their shots with the unfailing accuracy of a boxing hook, nag for a few days, and then when it’s all done, it’s “See you in four years.”
Because here are those games again, 22 issues in and still over their weight in a packed sports calendar. Birmingham’s quirky premiere show will have done no harm in this junk.
However, this alliance of nations, forged from the pink bits of a long-fading world order, has probably never been so precarious. For too many years, one woman, now 96, and this sporting event have held them together. Which, I have to say, looks more than a little fragile.
Birmingham’s opening night did not shy away from the challenges of a sometimes uncomfortable alliance, in a clever, vibrant and colorful show that has been described as a ‘love letter’ to the West Midlands.
Because when it comes to inclusivity and diversity, these far-flung and distant cousins, who make up about a third of the world’s population, are more than oceans apart.
There’s a lot of talk about democracy, climate change, tolerance and inequality, but many of its members also seem stubbornly refusing to do anything significant about it.
Four years ago, Gold Coast scuba diving gold medalist Tom Daley used his platform to strongly condemn anti-gay laws in 37 Commonwealth countries.
Since then, that number has grown to 35 – painfully insufficient progress – just under half of the nations and territories set to meet tonight at the Alexander Stadium.
Daley – who would face the death penalty for choosing to live his life in one of the competing nations here – carried the Queen’s Baton into the stadium surrounded by rainbow Pride flags and escorted by runners from Commonwealth nations where homosexuality is forbidden.
Symbolism often weighs heavily at these ceremonies, but the message resounded loudly here as local hero Denise Lewis passed the baton to Prince Charles to officially open the Games.
“We are a family,” said Dame Louise Martin, President of the Commonwealth Games Federation.
“In our 72 nations, we all speak the same languages. We’re all in the same boat. If you go to the village and see the athletes together, it’s family, that’s how we speak and that’s 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 part of the Commonwealth Games.
“We are unique because we all stick together.”
Just as JFK set the bar for the inauguration incredibly high, it’s been 10 years since Danny Boyle did the same at the inauguration ceremonies.
However, that show still had many memorable moments – Prince Charles did not jump out of a helicopter, preferring instead to drive into the stadium himself as 72 vintage cars, a nod to Birmingham’s car-making heritage, formed a union flag.
Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi did his thing, Duran Duran played some 80’s bangers and educational activist Malala, an adopted brummie, spoke passionately about creating a Commonwealth of Opportunities.
But the highlight was a 10m tall mechanical rampaging bull, the symbol of this city, billowing smoke into the night sky while 30,000 people cheered collectively.
Birmingham has dreamed of a moment like this for almost four decades, when they bid for the Olympics but lost to Barcelona, the International Olympic Committee Blazers quite short-sightedly decided their Bullring shopping center wasn’t as good as the actual bullring in the Catalan capital.
They only stepped in to host those games when Durban pulled out of South Africa due to cost concerns. It may be the ‘second city’ but too often it’s been seen as worse than second best, a place you’ve driven through to get to London with all its confident, cocky capital confidence or Manchester with its brooding ‘mad about it’ arrive ” swagger and impertinence.
But here in Britain’s youngest and most ethnically and culturally diverse city, you’ve heard all the jokes before, which is probably why it’s home to comedians from Jasper Carrott to Frank Skinner.
Have you heard about the Brummie who fought in Vietnam and kept having memories of being in Birmingham?
But these will be 12 days when Birmingham will be the envy of all – cradle of the Industrial Revolution, home of scientific endeavor, birthplace of the Balti, where oxygen was discovered and the Football League was founded.
There was a time when three quarters of all the pens in the world had nibs from Birmingham, so now seems like an opportune time to make some new history.
A city famous for not boasting might have something to offer in the days to come… the once workshop of the world that now welcomes it.
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https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/commonwealth-games/2022-opening-ceremony-birmingham-bull-tom-daley-b2133643.html Commonwealth Games 2022: A rampaging bull and quirky opening ceremony prove there’s still life at the Birmingham Games