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Relay comes to SA

The Queen’s Baton Relay has arrived on South African shores as part of the African leg of the baton’s global tour ahead of this year’s 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India.

Symbolising the unity and shared ideals of the Commonwealth nations, the Queen’s Baton Relay touched down at OR Tambo International airport in Johannesburg on Saturday, 9 January for a four-day visit to South Africa.

This is the latest stage of the baton’s roadshow, after it left London’s Buckingham Palace, England, on 29 October, 2009. The end of the line will be reached 340 days later at the opening ceremony of the Games on 3 October, 2010.

The baton was received at OR Tambo by Deputy Minister of Sport and Recreation, Gert Oosthuizen.

Welcoming the baton in South Africa, SASCOC president Gideon Sam said: “It’s always good to have the Commonwealth baton in the country because it draws attention to the impending competition and how South Africa will fare in that competition and what we can expect to achieve there.

“This is the second time we’ve had the baton in our country, the first being in 2006 ahead of the Melbourne Games but on that occasion the baton only visited the Nelson Mandela Metropole in the Eastern Cape therefore encouraging us to raise more awareness on this occasion.

“What’s nice to know is that people can track the progress of the baton around the world on the Commonwealth Games website and also ask questions of whether we will ever host the Commonwealth Games here in South Africa and then possibly the Olympics.”

A group of Indian businessmen will also be in the country during the baton’s visit and, says Sam: “this will be a continuation of the further boosting of SA/Indian business relationships.”

The baton’s travels will have taken it through the countries of one third of the world’s population and cover a distance in excess of 190 000km.

A truly marathon event, 240 days of the journey will be spent visiting the other 70 nations of the Commonwealth. But once it gets to India, the baton won’t stop there as it spends a further 100 days visiting all the capital cities of India’s 28 states and seven union territories.

Apart from the already mentioned sharing of unity and ideals, the baton relay is an attempt to allow communities beyond the host city to share in the Games celebrations. Its other main function is to carry Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s message to the athletes from Buckingham Palace to the opening ceremony.

The conclusion of the marathon trip comes when the final baton bearer enters the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on 3 October where Her Majesty’s message will be removed from the baton and read aloud, officially opening the Games, the theme of which is ‘Come out and Play’ in 2010.

The baton first reached African shores on 8 December, 2009 when it arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone from Valetta in Malta.
Before coming to South Africa the baton visited the island of Mauritius.

During its South African stopover, the 11th country on its continental visit, the baton will visit Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and Free State.

The baton will be handed over to SASCOC president Gideon Sam who will enlighten dignitaries about the baton’s journey until this point. Expected to be present at the baton’s arrival are the Ekurhuleni mayor, the Indian High Commissioner and various athletes.

The baton then heads off to Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, where it will be received by the mayor before being driven on an open bus from the airport, via Umlazi and Chatsworth, to the city.

Sunday sees the baton head for Cape Town in the morning to be handed over by SASCOC first vice-president Hajera Kajee to the MEC of Cultural Affairs and Sport. It will then be carried by a relay team to Gugulethu. From here it travels on an open-top bus via Heideveld to the city centre where members of the national Sevens rugby side will carry the baton to the Clock tower in the waterfront. Then it’s off to a lunch hosted by the city’s mayor and the baton will also visit the historic Robben Island.

For the third day of its South African stay on Monday 11January the baton will head from Cape Town to Bloemfontein where it will be presented to the local MEC of Cultural Affairs and Sport by SASCOC second vice-president Les Williams. From there it will be driven to the athletics stadium and also form part of a relay race from airport to Hoffman Square.

The final day of the visit sees the baton return to its arrival point of Johannesburg. On the schedule is a BMX relay where the baton will visit the Hector Peterson Museum in Soweto as well as taking in Mandela House Museum, Orlando Stadium, Noordgesig, SAFA house and then on to a farewell banquet hosted by SASCOC.

After South Africa the baton heads east to Swaziland and finally leaves African shores on 1 February.

Looking back at the history of the queen’s baton relay, the event was first introduced at the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales. As recently as the 1994 Games the relay only went through England and then the host nations.

The 1998 Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, saw the baton travelling to other nations of the Commonwealth for the first time. The 2002 relay covered more than 100 000km and went through a total of 23 nations.

Some of the key developments surrounding the baton

* In Auckland, New Zealand in 1990 the baton had two sides to its travels. One piece went on a relay run in the North Island, the other piece did the same in the South Island before being joined again in the final week before the Games.

* By the 1994 version of the Games in Victoria, British Columbia, the baton was fashioned with sterling silver and also engraved with traditional symbols of the creative artists’ families and cultures. This saw the inclusion of a wolf, a raven and an eagle with a frog in its mouth.

* Each host country attempts to introduce their own flavour to the Games and in the 1998 edition, the baton was carried into the stadium on an elephant. The baton was presented to Prince Edward by Malaysia’s first ever Commonwealth medal winner, Koh Eng Tong, who won gold in weightlifting in 1950.

* By the time of the last Games in Melbourne, Australia, in 2006, the baton had truly become hi-tech, featuring 71 lights on the front — representing all the member nations of the Commonwealth Games Federation. If that wasn’t enough gadgetry, a video camera built into the front of the baton recorded continuously as the baton travelled. And it got better. A GP tracker was also fitted so that the baton’s location could be viewed live on the official Commonwealth Games website.

* Some of the celebrities to have had the honour of carrying the baton on its final leg were middle distance runner, the late Sylvia Potts (Christchurch, 1974), sprinter Allan Wells (Edinburgh, 1986), middle distance athlete Peter Snell (Auckland, 1990), footballer David Beckham and Kirsty Howard, a courageous little girl who was born with the extremely rare condition of having her heart back to front (Manchester, 2002) and governer of Victoria John Landy (Melbourne, 2006).


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