Your Excellency the Minister of Sports and Physical Education,
Distinguished guests, athletes, ladies and gentlemen.
It is with immense pride and pleasure that I offer my words of welcome to the The Queen’s Baton Relay team with us here today in Yaoundé.
In the era of emails, internet and virtual reality, there is something reassuring about physically taking a message around the world. [As we have heard ] over a period of 288 days the baton will visit 70 nations and territories, cover 190,000 kilometers and involve a third of the world’s population. I don’t know what sort of passports the team have, but I hope they are big ones for all the stamps they will be collecting!
On 9 October 2013 Her Majesty The Queen placed Her message to the Commonwealth into the Baton. And now, this afternoon, this message, and the Baton are with us here in Cameroon. Not only is this a wonderful symbol of unity amongst the family of Commonwealth nations. But this is also an opportunity for us to underline the many links between Cameroon, the United Kingdom and all Commonwealth nations, in particular Nigeria, South Africa and Canada all of whom have High Commissions in Yaoundé. The Team flew in with the Baton from Abuja yesterday, and will be in South Africa on 10 February having travelled to another 12 African countries between now and then. It will spend more time in the continent of Africa, where we have the largest number of Commonwealth countries – 18 than in any other continent. Later it will reach Canada in almost the finale before returning to the United Kingdom.
But the team are up against the clock and must be in Glasgow by the 23rd July when the 2014 Commonwealth Games will start.
And let’s not forget that this is what this is all about. Ever since Cardiff held the Commonwealth Games in 1958, the Queen’s Baton Relay has been a tradition which we are delighted to be part of today. The tradition brings together athletes from the past, with athletes around the world now in training and looking forward to competing in Glasgow, with aspiring athletes, those who are perhaps still at school - so connecting the youth, our future, with the past and the present. At the same time, with so much conflict and tension between communities in the world, sport is a wonderful medium to remind us that the truly important things in life are usually the simplest: family, health, education and shared values.
So the Queen’s Baton Relay serves a higher purpose. We can accept it simply as a group of fit people running around the world carrying a baton prompting a sports event. And there is nothing wrong with that. But I commend also thinking about this at a deeper level: reflecting on this visit by representatives of Her Majesty the Queen, as a means by which we can come together in a celebration of unity and shared values. All members of the Commonwealth have agreed to promote the core Commonwealth principles. Let us just remind ourselves what these are:
Consensus and common action, mutual respect, inclusiveness, transparency, accountability, legitimacy, and responsiveness. These are the values that I hope to pass on to my children. They are the fundamental values that societies need to be successful, and that individuals need to live fulfilling and enriching lives. Lets work together to help entrench these values at all levels of society and government in our countries.
My thanks to his Excellency, the President of Cameroon, President Biya who I saw this morning and who passes on his best wishes to the Queen’s Baton Relay team. My thanks also to the Olympic Committee of Cameroon for their work in hosting the Relay during their time here. And to the Minister for Sports, and to all those who have been involved in putting this programme together.
And looking ahead, my best wishes to the Relay Team, on the next leg of their journey on Saturday, to Kenya, and thereafter. May your passports not fill up, may your running shoes not wear out, and may your message of shared values be truly appreciated by all you meet.