By Mark Etheridge
The 2014 Commonwealth Games Queen’s Baton relay had another successful journey on the penultimate day of its stay in South Africa on Thursday.
After arriving in the country from Lesotho on Monday, the baton returned to Johannesburg after visits to Soweto, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane on its first three days.
Friday’s first stop was the Nelson Mandela Foundation Centre of Memory where the baton relay runners were received by the late President’s great grandson Luvoyo Mandela.
“My great grandfather had a great interest in sport and kept his body fit┬á as he was a firm believer that the sharpness of the body leads to sharpness of the mind. To the athletes here, thank you for training so hard to represent your country.
“We look forward to hearing all your great results in Glasgow later this year.”
Mandela junior then formally handed the baton over to gymnast Kirsten Beckett in the shadow of a Madiba statue before the runners, including former Olympic silver medallist Hezekiel Sepeng, fellow 800m ace Johan Botha and national badminton player Jennifer Fry set off up Central Street.
On behalf of the athletes, SASCOC second vice-president Les Williams then thanked SASCOC President Gideon Sam, present in his capacity as Commonwealth Games Federation vice-president.
Gymnast Kirsten Beckett (with baton) and badminton player Jennifer Fry, to her right, lead the group of relay runners on Thursday. Picture: Wessel Ooosthuizen.
“Gideon must please convey to the CGF our thanks for the opportunity to host the baton here in South Africa. Next time we see the baton it will be at the opening ceremony on 23 July. We wish you all a safe journey for the completion of the relay. And a big thank-you to the Gauteng Traffic Police for a great job of escorting the baton.”
Deputy British High Commissioner Martin Reynolds also referred to the Mandela influence. “Throughout our visit here Madiba’s presence has been with us, so it’s fitting that our African odyssey has ended here in South Africa. I wish all the South African athletes the best of luck in Glasgow and I’m sure we’ll build on the success of the 2012 Olympics. It’s been a really special four days in your country.”
For his part, Sam spoke on the importance of continuing the Commonwealth legacy. “It’s very important that the Commonwealth Games Associations are in a position to contribute to the development of the Games.
“If we are not careful, the Games will degenerate. The Games occupy a particular position in world sport and it’s critical to ensure the Games┬á survival.
“We are reviewing what we are doing and have spoken to various heads of state and are evaluating each CGA in terms of governance, management, programmes etc. My responsibility is to ensure that all 70 members are well developed and able to sustain. In this regard the University of Johannesburg has taken the lead on the African continent to develop and boost competencies.
Director-General of Sport and Recreation South Africa, Alec Moemi also emphasised the importance of the Games later this. “We must become more dominant in the Commonwealth Games. We must aim for that No1 position. The Games are a mini-Olympics and we must use them to assess where we are ahead of the 2016 Olympics. I only wish that the relay continues it’s journey safely and takes the warmth of South African hospitality with it.”
The baton flies south to Cape Town on the last leg of its visit and will visit the South African rugby musuem at the Waterfront on Friday before being taken aboard the RMS St Helena ship to St Helena and then onwards to Ascencion Island and the Caribbean.