HUNDREDS of people packed into Victoria Square to welcome The British Transplant Games to Bolton with a sparkling opening ceremony.
Nearly 800 athletes who have undergone life-saving transplants are set to compete in the event, which started yesterday and finishes with a flourish on Sunday.
Andrew Eddy, president of Transplant Sport, declared them officially open after the flame was lit at 7.30pm.
Fireworks soared into the air and streamers rained down on the happy crowds after Ayesha Brookes, a young competitor from Bolton, helped to light the flame.
Founded in 1978, it is the first time Bolton has hosted the games, with 54 hospitals entering competitors in sports that include archery, football, tennis and athletics.
The athletes paraded from the Market Place Shopping Centre — led by the Swaminarayan Gadi pipe band — to Victoria Square to the start of the ceremony.
The aim of the event is to showcase the benefit of organ donation and increase the number of people on the organ donor register.
Mr Eddy, a former medallist at the games, said: “It is fantastic and we are looking forward to an amazing games.
"The people have really welcomed us and got behind the idea.
"This is the biggest games we have had and it has been three years in the making. I’m really excited about the next few days.”
Cllr Colin Shaw, the Deputy Mayor of Bolton, received a flag and flame on stage to signal the start of the games.
Sean Harriss, chief executive of Bolton Council, said: “We are very proud that Bolton has got the opportunity to host the games. We think it is a really good chance to highlight the important issues relating to organ donation and a great opportunity to showcase the borough.
“I want to wish all the competitors, their families and the organisers best of luck for the games.”
Earlier crowds were wowed by music from rock band Lime Chase, acoustic trio Bright Shapes, singer Trish Chantelle, music and drama group Little Voices and the Rock Choir.
Keeping athletes entertained at the Market Place before the parade was The Gifted Organs, a band comprising three transplant recipients, including Mr Eddy, the president of Transplant Sport.
Almost 7,000 people in the UK are estimated to be waiting for an organ transplant, with three people dying each day while waiting to find a match.
The Bolton News has been campaigning for the last seven months to encourage more and more Bolton people to sign the organ donor register.