UK points the way with Commonwealth Games opening ceremony – Michmutters

UK points the way with Commonwealth Games opening ceremony

Performers take part in the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Birmingham on Thursday.

Performers take part in the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Birmingham on Thursday.Credit:AP

The opening ceremony of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in the English city of Birmingham was quirky and entertaining, as far as these things go, but organizers will hope the most enduring moments from the night will have more to do with poignancy than pageantry.

The scenes that played out in Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium, and watched on TV by committed Australians in the small hours of Friday morning, were a celebration, for sure, but they also represented an opportunity taken by host nation England to lay down a new path for the Commonwealth Games. Organizers read the tea leaves and constructed a narrative that took responsibility for some of the wrongs of Britain’s past and set out its intent for a better future.

Matilda, the giant winking kangaroos of Brisbane 1982, and the winged flying trams of Melbourne 2006 conjure pleasant memories of Commonwealth Games past for many Australians, but simply rolling out cliched iconography doesn’t cut it in these more complex times.

Yes, Birmingham had its own giant animal/machine – a mechanical Raging Bull – but it was used to recognize England’s history of oppression of poor workers and women and the stain of slavery in Britain’s past, just as it was a symbol of the city’s proud history as an industrial innovator.

When champion British diver Tom Daley, a gay man, carried the Queen’s Baton into the stadium accompanied by an entourage of LGBTQ+ flag bearers, the Commonwealth was sending a clear message to the 35 of its 72 members that still consider homosexuality a crime – and those in particular that punish it with the death penalty.


Even the Games mascot, a typically cartoonish creature designed to engage children, is striving for higher ideals. Multicolored Perry the Bull “celebrates diversity, community and our region’s heritage as well as its future,” said Birmingham’s Games boss Ian Reid.

Birmingham is Europe’s youngest city, with almost 40 per cent of its population aged 25 or under, and it is one of its most diverse. As host, it represented an opportunity to breathe fresh life into the Games and to address what Commonwealth Games Federation president Dame Louise Martin four years ago called an “existential crisis” for the event. “In recent times, our federation has done a lot of soul-searching to look at our impact and meaning,” she said, with the organization noting that “there is no easy way of saying the Commonwealth has a challenging history linked to colonial roots ”.

These issues were deftly handled by Birmingham, and for Victorians they pointed towards similar opportunities when the state hosts the Games in 2026.

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