Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Seventh step to the Commonwealth Games

by Alice Mascarenhas

For the first time in its history The Queen's Baton Relay, the event which sets the wheels in motion for the next Commonwealth Games Commonwealth Games, was carried through the streets of Gibraltar yesterday by six of the Rock's top sportsmen and women - all of whom hope to represent Gibraltar in Melbourne in 2006.

The Queen's Baton will travel 110,000 miles through all 71 nations of the Commonwealth - Gibraltar was number seven on the list.

At 11am yesterday, Sports Minister Clive Beltran, flagged off the relay led by the sports men and women: Jaime Zammitt (swimming), Heloise Mañasco (air rifle shooting), Chris Walker (triathlon) Sigurd Haveland (cycling), Elaine Reyes (swimming) and Michael Sanchez (athletics). Trailing behind the local relay team were 50 children representing all the middle schools in Gibraltar.

Together with the QBR crew, the sports delegates, athletes and children marched with the Baton around part of the Victoria Stadium track, up Winston Churchill Avenue, around Portland House, into Casemates Square, up Main Street and into the Piazza where a short ceremony was held in the presence of Clive Beltran as he switched his hat to that of Mayor of Gibraltar.

Vice-president of the Gibraltar Commonwealth Association Becky Fortunato welcomed everyone to the proceedings who presented Heloise Mañasco who was given the honour as a Commonwealth gold medallist to present The Queen's Baton to The Mayor who received the baton on behalf of the people of Gibraltar. Present at the ceremony were the members of The Queen's Baton crew including Shannon Stacey, the representative from the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games Corporation.

Mayor Clive Beltran welcomed everyone to the celebrations of The Queen's Baton Relay the traditional curtain raiser to the Commonwealth Games.

"This is the first time the baton comes to our shores and it is an especially happy occasion for Gibraltar. The 18th Commonwealth Games will open in Melbourne, Australia, in less than a year’s time on March 15, with more than 4,500 competitors (amongst which there will be Gibraltarians) from 71 countries," he stated.

The Mayor further stated:

"By gathering here today and sharing in the history, spirit, ceremony and tradition of The Queen's Baton Relay, we are making our own contribution towards a world united in peace, mutual respect and universal friendship."

He thanked everyone who had participated in the ceremony, and especially the Australian Government, Commonwealth Games Federation, and Tourism Australia who made the visit possible not just to Gibraltar but to all the other countries as well.

On behalf of the Commonwealth Games Melbourne 2006, Shannon Stacey, thanked Gibraltar for the warm welcome and for helping to stage the longest most inclusive relay ever, and for taking part in a history-making event.

Vice-president of the Gibraltar Commonwealth Association Becky Fortunato, told the Chronicle that the presence of The Queen's Baton in Gibraltar was not just excellent for the sports community but also for the community as a whole because it helped makes everyone feel a part of the Commonwealth Games.

"One of the most important aspects of today is that this event has given the association the opportunity to make the public more aware that Gibraltar does participate in the Commonwealth Games. It is usually an elite number of athletes who go and perhaps because of this a lot of people don't realise that we do compete in these Games. By using the middle schools, after all are the future athletes of tomorrow, we will have spread the word further," she said.

Gibraltar has participated in the Commonwealth Games since 1958 when they were still called the Empire Games. The first participant was athlete Charlie Flower who run in the then 440 yards event. Mr Flower is today the President of the Gibraltar Commonwealth Games Association and is in Melbourne this week participating in the Commonwealth Games General Assembly.

This year all the sportsmen and women who participated in the relay hope to qualify for the games next year.

Air Rifle Gold medallist at the Commonwealth Shooting Federation European Division Championship Ladies Air Rifle, Heloise Mañasco, has already qualified for the Games. Gibraltar hopes to qualify individuals in shooting, athletics, swimming and cycling.

Later Mayor Clive Beltran emphasised how important it was for Gibraltar to participate in the values and spirit of the Commonwealth Games symbolised by the baton. As Minister Mr Beltran said the government would continue to financially support the participating athletes at the games, and would continue to do so in future.

Shooter Heloise Mañasco said her participation in the relay, as for the other athletes was very important.

"The first person to take it was The Queen, then she handed it over to Cathy Freeman, and she is a very important athelete, so it is an honour to be chosen to be a part of this," she said.

Chris Walker who was the first athlete to take the baton yesterday in the relay spoke of how fantastic the experience had been for him.

The other athletes Jaime Zammitt, Sigurd Haveland, Elaine Reyes and Michael Sanchez were just as excited and especially looking forward to their participation and qualifying for the Games next year.

"All we have to do is carry on training hard until next March!" added Jamie Zammitt.

Honorary Vice-President, Pepe Fabre, present at the ceremony held in front of the City Hall, an original member of the local committee in 1958, and present at all Commonwealth Games since, described the event of major importance for Gibraltar.

"It is a great privilege and honour that we are hosting this event. It is significant because we are not just part of the Commonwealth but we are also being recognised as being a part of it," he said.

Joe Hernandez, Principal Secretary of the Youth and Culture Ministry, commented how the arrival of The Queen's Baton was very important for sport in Gibraltar and for the Commonwealth as a whole because it is the first time it will travel to all 71 countries bringing together the Commonwealth sporting community together a year in advance of the Games.

Today’s programme: Loreto Convent at 10.45 and Bayside at 11.30pm and visiting the Governor at the Convent at 2pm. A special reception will also be held by The Mayor in the evening.

The Queen's Baton has already seen its way through Wales, Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Guernsey. After Gibraltar it will head for Cyprus, Malta and returning to the Channel Islands - Jersey on April 12 and England by April 15. It will then travel to Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, Asia and finally Oceania and the Melbourne opening ceremony on March 15 2006.

The Queen's Baton was created for a relay to celebrate the Cardiff 1958 Commonwealth Games in Wales. Since then it has become a much loved games tradition. The baton's journey symbolises the unity and shared ideals of the Commonwealth of Nations, and enables communities beyond the host city to share the Games celebrations.

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