The 32nd National Games got off to a colourful and scintillating start on Friday evening at the sprawling GMC Balayogi Athletic Stadium, at Gacchi Bowli, on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
President A P J Abdul Kalam formally declared open the Hyderabad edition of the Games at a breath-taking ceremony that lasted over three hours.
Superstar Amitabh Bachchan, AP Governor Dr C Rangarajan, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, Indian Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi, Union Minister for Sports & Youth Affairs Vikram Varma and a galaxy of sports and film personalities graced the occasion.
The 30,000-capacity stadium was jam-packed as the 10-day mega sporting event -- billed as the biggest in the history of the National Games -- commenced with laser show fireworks, cultural performances and a march past by about 8,000 participants and 2,000 sports officials from 32 states and union territories.
Andhra Pradesh's hockey Olympian Mukesh Kumar lit the traditional torch while Amitabh Bachchan, singers and other stars from the Hindi and Telugu film industry added glamour and lustre to the spectacle, which had the audience enthralled.
Thousands of sports enthusiasts turned up to watch the inaugural ceremony despite an entry fee being levied for the first time in the history of the Games.
Hyderabad are hosting the Games for the second time. They had hosted the 25th edition in 1979.
The opening ceremony extravaganza began with an air show by three helicopters and three aircraft of the Indian Air Force. While three 'Chetak' helicopters carrying the National flag, National Games flag and the flag of the Indian Olympic Association flew over the stadium, three 'Kiran' aircraft performed a fly-past, leaving flumes of the three colours of the national flag.
It was followed by a march past by NCC girls, followed by the athletes and officials from all the 32 participating states and union territories. The Punjab team led the march-past while the hosts state made up the rear.
Chief Minister N Chandrababu said the state government has created world-class infrastructure for sports and games and it is for the various sports federations and the Indian Olympic Association to utilize the infrastructure for organizing international events in Hyderabad. He said though India got only a single bronze medal in the last Olympics, the country would do extremely well in the next Olympic Games.
He urged India to bid for the Olympic Games in the near future and even offered to host it in Andhra Pradesh.
Making an impassioned plea to the Government of India and the Indian Olympic Association, the chief minister said "now the time has come for India to bid for the Olympics".
"The Government of Andhra Pradesh will host the Olympic Games for India," he assured.
While mooting the proposal, he asked the 30,000-strong spectators and 10,000 participating athletes and officials present to indicate their willingness. Everybody raised hands to second his suggestion.
"Now, it is for the president of Indian Olympic Association, the Olympic family and the Government of India to decide and bid for the Olympic Games. India is competent to host the Olympic Games. We will prove that we will do better than any other country in the world," Naidu said.
Responding to his plea, Suresh Kalmadi said that the general body of the Indian Olympic Association, in fact, considered the issue at its meeting on Friday.
"We are very happy to say that we are agreeable. You make a start and we are there behind you to host the first-ever Olympics in India," Kalmadi told Naidu.
President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam also lent his support to the idea. Reiterating that "India can win and India should win", he said that India should host the Olympics.
"Dreams are the platform for thoughts and thoughts result into action," he said.
The President said for a country of a billion people and more, the time has come to excel in sports. He said this would be possible if children are encouraged to participate in sports in schools.
"Each child gets 25,000 school hours in 12 years," he said, and added that society, parents and teachers should encourage children to take up sports.
"In a human life, if there is any aspect which enriches mind and body in an integrated way, it is sports and games," he said, underlining the need to encourage sports as an integrated way of life.
A total of 7,988 sports persons from 32 states are participating in the Games. While 24 events will be held at various stadia in Hyderabad, seven events will be held at the port city of Visakhapatnam.