Ahmedabad: Already wearing a festive look on the fourth day of the Navaratra celebrations here, over 1.25 lakh enthusiastic spectators displayed the state’s readiness to host the 36th National Games with Prime Minister Narendra Modi declaring the Games open at a spectacular opening ceremony here on Thursday evening.

The hour-long show, attended by a star-studded gathering that included state chief minister Bhupendra Patel, union sports minister Anurag Thakur and the country’s top athletes, was a perfect medley of tradition, modernity and entertainment.

In keeping with Olympic convention, but with a modern twist, Gujarat’s swimming star Maana Patel brought in the symbolic Torch of Unity into the arena and handed it over to the Prime Minister. Watched and applauded by several current and past sports icons, including Neeraj Chopra, PV Sindhu, Ravi Dahiya, Mirabai Chanu, Gagan Narang, Dilip Tirkey and Anju Bobby George, the PM placed the Torch on the podium for it to be lit by augmented reality. 

As the PM rose to speak, thunderous applause from the capacity crowd at Narendra Modi Stadium in the Motera area here, underlined the popularity of the state’s favourite son. “This sight, this ambience can’t be described in words. In the world’s biggest stadium, one of the world’s youngest countries is witnessing India’s biggest sports festival,” he said.

Praising the theme behind the Games anthem, Judega India, Jitega India, the Prime Minister said that the National Games would act as a launch pad for every youngster.

“Fortunately, the auspicious festival of Navratri is taking place at this moment. I invite players from different states to not only enjoy the Games but also the festivities in Gujarat. To the people of Gujarat, I ask you to leave no stone unturned in your hospitality,” he added.

Gujarat CM Bhupendra Patel also welcomed the over 9,000-plus athletes from “every corner of the country” on behalf of every Gujarati in the state and the world.

In keeping with a time-honoured Olympic custom, Ek Bharat, a ceremonial march past, by the athletes of 36 states and Union Territories plus Services ensued. The biggest applause, unsurprisingly, was reserved for the 700-strong Gujarat contingent, which was led by tennis star Ankita Raina, who also took the oath on behalf of all the athletes.

The National Games, being held after seven years, will witness India’s best athletes compete in 35 disciplines in six cities of Gujarat. Although they started on September 20 to accommodate World Championship-bound table tennis players, they will gather steam on Friday with nine disciplines getting underway and several top athletes entering the fray.

Earlier, the PM virtually inaugurated the Swarnim Gujarat Sports Unity through Augmented Reality, setting the stage for a mind-blowing show. A special performance showcasing several of Gujarat’s traditional art forms at the start set the mood for the evening. The PM’s event was preceded by performances from the likes of Shankar Mahadevan, Mohit Chauhan and various folk artists from the state.

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