LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II held her first major engagement at Buckingham Palace since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic a year and a half ago, as she presided Thursday over the launch of the baton relay for next year’s Commonwealth Games in the central England city of Birmingham.
The 95-year-old monarch handed the baton for what are often referred to as the “friendly games” to four-time Paralympic gold medallist Kadeena Cox, who is fresh from winning two events in Tokyo.
Cox, 30, took the baton on a brief journey around the nearby Queen Victoria Memorial in central London before handing it to another competitor.
“It’s really special,” she said. “I fall into this category where I’m very diverse — I’m a female, disabled, Black athlete. For me I think that’s what the Commonwealth represents and especially being in Birmingham which is such a diverse place.”
The Commonwealth Games, formerly known as the Empire Games, are held every four years and involve mostly countries and territories with former colonial ties to Britain, including Australia, Canada, India and South Africa.
The Birmingham 2022 Queen’s Baton Relay, as it is formally known, will now embark on its 90,000-mile (145,000 kilometer) journey around the world.
Flying out from Birmingham Airport, the baton will first stop on the east Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus on Oct. 9. A week later it arrives in Africa, firstly in Nigeria, and will bring in the New Year in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives.
The relay, which will involve 7,500 baton bearers, will go through 72 nations and territories of the Commonwealth over 294 days and will return to Birmingham for the opening ceremony on July 28.
The queen, who has spent much of the pandemic at Windsor Castle, just west of London, wore a bright orange coat dress and matching hat at Thursday’s event.
She was joined by her youngest son, Prince Edward, who is the vice patron of the Commonwealth Games Federation. Others in attendance at the palace were Commonwealth of Nations Secretary-General Patricia Scotland and athletes who are gearing up to compete in the Games.
A strand of platinum has been incorporated into the baton in recognition of the queen’s 70-year reign, which will be celebrated next year.
The baton will carry hi-tech gadgets, including a 360-degree camera and atmospheric sensors which use laser technology to analyze environmental conditions. It will also carry a message from the queen to be read out loud at the opening ceremony.
Organizers said that to reduce the relay’s carbon footprint, the baton will travel almost half the distance of the one that hopped the planet before the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in Australia.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was London mayor at the time of the Olympic Games in the city in 2012, enthused about next year’s Commonwealth gathering on what will be the queen’s platinum anniversary.
“The U.K. is honoured to host these games in the brilliant city of Birmingham, bringing together 72 nations and territories from across the globe & marking a year of pride and celebration for this country,” he said in a tweet.