The overwhelming success of the grand opening ceremony of the XVI Commonwealth Games in September 11, 1998, at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil had shown the world in word and deed that Malaysians, united as one, can achieve great excellence.
On that dazzling night, the harmonious fusion of sounds, lights and colours, the oneness of the audience, performers and athletes were a tremendous kick-off for an event devoted to sporting excellence.
Only second to the Olympics, the Games had the full participation of all the seventy Commonwealth countries, making it the largest ever. His Majesty The Yang Dipertuan Agong Tuanku Ja’afar officiated the occasion.
When the crowd began to troop in as early as 3:00pm, one could already see the 4,840-strong human graphics performers from Soka Gakkai Malaysia (SGM) streaming into the stadium and everybody lining up in neat rows, eager to start.
When Harith Iskandar, the local comedian took the stage at 5:00pm sharp, the crowd was swelling to the brim of the gleaming stadium. A crowd of 100,000 people on that day were joined across the nation and around the globe by a record of 500 million viewers to witness the greatest sporting event in Malaysian history.
Performed by local artists including Ella, Sheila Majid, Ziana Zain and Amy Mastura, the pre-show which lasted for two-and-a-half hour was indeed a star-studded one. A total of 250 school-children garbed in bright costumes danced to the tune of live performances by the artists.
Strategically placed opposite the grandstand, the human graphics performers presented among their 287 graphics welcoming messages, Malaysian scenes and various cultures that complemented the dance performed on the ground.
The show itself began at 8:00pm with the arrival of the Chairman of Commonwealth Games Federation Mr Michael Fennel, Prince Edward, Prime Minister Dato Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the Yang Dipertuan Agong.
Led by Wira, the Games’ mascot, and the mascots of the other previous Games, the seventy contingents of 6,000 athletes marched in. The various contingents brought with them the charm of their respective countries. Their impressive array of costumes were a sight to behold.
As the delegates moved in, the valiant human graphics performers continuously flipped their 16-colour cards to form the flag and the name of each nation, adding colours and grandeur to the ceremony. The nations which joined the Commonwealth Games for the first time saw the word ‘Welcome’ flashed to them in a bright magenta.
As soon as the athletes were seated, the stadium dimmed for a welcoming show. At ‘dawn’, the little ‘bees’, ‘butterflies’, ‘flora’ and ‘fauna’ flitted in. The contemporary dance involving 2,000 school-children depicted the richness and beauty of nature in Malaysia.
With three strikes on the gong, a symbolic Malaysian way of signifying the official opening of a function, the Yang Dipertuan Agong declared the Games opened. A burst of fireworks, blurring of the giant bunga raya and a 16-gun salute augured well for a victorious Games for all.
The main cultural show with the theme ‘Unity Towards Progress’ told the Malaysian history from ancient Malacca to the present development in Malaysia. The human graphics colourful displays aptly went along well with the story of the cultural show.
At the finale, the human graphics performers rose to their feet from behind their flip cards and waved to the appreciative audience with three shouts of ‘Malaysia Boleh’! The strain of the eight hours of holding on tight to their flip cards and hearing out the directions of their instructor, Sun Kien Keong, were forgotten when their beloved Prime Minister waved to acknowledge them for a job well done.
From beginning to end, the human graphics performers were all there. They strove to be perfect in the job entrusted to them by their country and they have succeeded. Despite the tough training, they were honoured to have the opportunity to represent their nation to welcome visitors from all over the world, to do their part for their country and in contributing towards making the opening ceremony a great Success.
The many hours of those involved in the fourteen practices, with each, lasting four to six hours, and the three rehearsals where the performers, who were away from their homes since morning to past midnight, were all forgotten, all for a performance well done.
We received praises from all strata of society, including favourable comments from the Prime Minister, and HRH The Prince Edward from the United Kingdom.
The task would not have been possible without the support of the innumerable members all over the country who had chanted many hours for the success of the event, and the many unsung ‘heroes’ who had worked happily behind the scenes.