Loudest cheers for India, grand welcome for Pakistan at CWG opener


New Delhi: Thousands of spectators at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium greeted the Indian contingent with a roar and warmly welcomed the Pakistani squad as they marched in for the spectacular opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games here Sunday.

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Indian musicians, drummers and singer Hariharan had enthralled the audience that included President Pratibha Patil and her husband, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife before the athletes took the centre stage.

The Australian contingent, led by netball player Sharelle McMahon, was the first in the parade of the 71 teams from 53 countries and 18 terrirories spanning five continents and two regions. A huge roar from an estimated 65,000 spectators at the stadium, the main venue for the Oct 3-14 Games, greeted the contingent.

All the 71 contingents in their colourful outfits, some of them traditional, took part in the parade, though several athletes skipped the opening ceremony as they have to participate in events early Monday.

Each of the 71 Indian women who carried the placards of the countries wore colourful sarees draped in different styles.

An even more deafening roar greeted the colourful Indian contingent, led by Olympic gold medallist shooter Abhinav Bindra. As the host, Indian team was the last to march into the stadium.

With 619 athletes, the Indian contingent is the biggest at the Games and drew a standing ovation from President Patil and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) president Sonia Gandhi as well as from the packed stadium.

The men were dressed in maroon kurtas and black pyjamas with a golden stole while the women were draped in glittering maroon sarees.

Bindra walked with the tri-colour fluttering high with the entire contingent in tow carrying mini-flags as they waved and acknowledged the adulation. Bindra also became the fourth shooter to carry the national flag at a mega sports event.

Bindra, who won the gold in the 10 metre air rifle event in Beijing, was elated. He said it was a dream come true.

“As a 15-year-old I represented the country in my first Commonwealth Games in 2002 at Manchester. Today, I am living a dream. To represent the country in the Commonwealth Games and also to carry the national flag is a great honour,” said Bindra, who was the youngest member of the Indian contingent in Manchester.

The late Karni Singh, a silver medallist in skeet in the World Championships, was the flag bearer at the 1982 Asian Games. World champion pistol shooter Jaspal Rana carried the Indian flag at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur. Athens Olympics silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore carried the Indian flag at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The all-male Pakistan team, dressed in green blazers, got a loud cheer from the spectators as weightlifter Shuja-ud-din Malik led them carrying the national flag. The contingent included star tennis player Aisam ul-Haq Qureshi, who pairing with Indian Rohan Bopanna, made it to the final of the US Open tennis men’s doubles this year.