The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games began with a bang as a cast of 1,500 wowed 30,000 fans inside Alexander Stadium and a global audience of over a billion.
The ceremony, planned by Artistic Director Iqbal Khan, told the story of Birmingham’s embrace of generations of Commonwealth communities and featured a range of artistic displays, including a crowd-pleasing performance from Duran Duran and a 10-metre high bull representing Birmingham’s historic Bullring market.
Over 4,500 athletes will play at this year’s Commonwealth Games and squash players from seven countries took centre stage as national flag bearers, with Australia, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand and Wales nominating squash players to the honour.
For Commonwealth Games veteran Rachael Grinham of Australia, tonight represented a particularly poignant moment. The 45-year-old, winner of eight Commonwealth Games medals, is the first ever squash player to lead out Australia and the first female athlete to compete in six Games, having played at squash’s Commonwealth Games debut as a 21-year-old in Kuala Lumpur 1998.
Speaking ahead of the ceremony, in which Grinham and co-flag bearer Ed Ockenden led over 250 Australian athletes, Grinham referenced the opening ceremony’s focus on inclusivity, saying: “I think it’s an issue that should be important to everyone.”
On her record Games appearances, she said: “I’ve never been about keeping score of achievements and things like that. I’ve always just enjoyed playing. I love playing for Australia, that in itself as an experience is amazing to be able to do.”
Despite Grinham being the oldest competitor in the Australia team, one squash flagbearer can point to an even greater wealth of experience, with 50-year-old Marlene West – who will be competing in the women’s doubles alongside Jade Pitcairn and in the mixed doubles with Cameron Stafford – led out her Cayman Islands teammates at her sixth Commonwealth Games.
There was an emotional moment for the Malaysian team – welcomed in by legend of the game Nicol David – as squash player and World No.24 Aifa Azman led out her delegation. The honour was originally supposed to go to teammate Sivasangari Subramaniam, only for a traffic accident in June to rule her out of the Games.
Also given the honour of leading out their teams were New Zealand’s Commonwealth Games top seed Joelle King, Bermuda’s Emma Keane, and Wales’ Tesni Evans.
Malta’s Kijan Sultana, making his Commonwealth Games debut and one of a trio of squash-playing siblings competing in this year’s event, was the sole male squash player nominated as flagbearer.