EDINBURGH, Scotland — With more than 700 athletes missing, the 13th Commonwealth Games opened today in a blaze of color that was muted by the absence of more than half the original 58 nations, colonies and territories that entered the 10-day sports festival.
A mass boycott over British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's refusal to agree to stringent economic sanctions against South Africa left only 27 teams to carry their flags into Meadowbank Stadium in this historic Scottish city.
In a dramatic last-minute development, the Bermuda team of eight athletes and five officials defied an order to join the boycott and decided to stay in the games.
With the opening ceremony already under way, the Bermudans changed quickly into their Commonwealth Games uniforms and rushed from the competitors' village to Meadowbank.
The team was ordered to withdraw from the games early today by the Bermuda Olympic Assn., its official sponsor. But after receiving verbal government support, it made its own decision to take part.
The boycott by 700 athletes stripped the games of about one-third of the original entries.
But organizers did their best to put on a dazzling opening ceremony that began with thousands of schoolchildren lining up in the shape of a human flag depicting St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland.
A huge cheer went up in the stadium as the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, entered to an overhead flyby by three Sea King helicopters followed in by eight jet fighters.
As the prince, president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, inspected a guard of honor and took his seat in the Royal Stand, a blast of red, white and blue fireworks lit up the gray skies.