Indian president, British queen launch Commonwealth baton relay (Lead)

October 29th, 2009 - 9:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Pratibha Patil By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, Oct 29 (IANS) President Pratibha Patil joined Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II Thursday to launch 2010 Commonwealth Games baton relay - described as the longest and most inclusive in history - at a gala Indian ceremony in Buckingham Palace.

The 51-year-old tradition - a curtain-raiser to the Commonwealth Games that are held every four years - took place on the last day of Patil’s three-day state visit to Britain, with the Queen formally bidding farewell to Patil at the Palace’s Grand Entrance.

The baton, packed with high-tech cameras, sound-recorders and LED lights all made in India, contains a message to the athletes from the queen that will be opened and read out at the launch of the Games in New Delhi Oct 3.

The relay will cover more than 190,000 km and 70 countries and territories as it travels around the world - making it one of the longest relays in the history of the Commonwealth Games.

The baton will traverse the length and breadth of the Commonwealth for 240 days before arriving in India, where it will launch into a 100-day national tour, going through all the states and union territories.

After a colourful performance of Indian music and dance on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace Thursday, the baton was passed in turn from the Queen to Patil, to Sports Minister M.S. Gill, Games Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi, and finally to the 14 athletes who began the baton relay.

Running with the baton outside the Palace in central London were shooter Abhinav Bindra, former British runner Sebastian Coe, former Indian cricket captain Kapil Dev, tennis star Sania Mirza, ‘Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh, British runner Kelly Holmes, England cricketer Monty Panesar, boxer Vijender Kumar, squash player Misha Soni, wrestler Sushil Kumar, British wheelchair table tennis player Susan Gilroy, weighlifter Karnam Malleshwari, hockey star Dilip Tirkey and decathlete Gurbachan Singh Randhawa.

They were cheered by hundreds of people who lined the gates of Buckingham Palace.

The baton was carried to the Queen Victoria Memorial and The Mall in central London, before making its way to Trafalgar Square.

By the end of this epic journey, it will have travelled for 340 days and covered more than 190,000 km, passing through the hands of thousands of individuals across land, air, sea and on many different modes of transport - from bicycle and boat to hot air balloon, steam train and even an elephant.

The baton’s journey will take in some of the most remote places in the Commonwealth, including the British-administered territory of St. Helena - accessible only by boat - and the Falkland Islands.

It will enter India from the Attari border with Pakistan June 25 before starting on a journey of 28 States and seven union territories, covering a distance of over 20,000 km.

The relay will end at the opening ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium Oct 3, where athletes will be read out the Queen’s message, engraved on a miniature 18-carat gold leaf representing the ancient Indian ‘patra’ - currently locked in a jewellery box inside the baton.

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