(AFP) – 45 minutes ago
SANDRINGHAM, United Kingdom — Queen Elizabeth II used her Christmas Day message Saturday to highlight the importance of sport as a way of building communities, 19 months ahead of the London Olympic Games.
In her traditional televised address to the nation, which is regularly watched by millions of Britons celebrating Christmas at home, the monarch pointed to October's Commonwealth Games as an example of how sport unites people.
"During this past year of abundant sporting events, I have seen for myself just how important sport is in bringing people together from all backgrounds, from all walks of life and from all age groups," the 84-year-old said.
The queen celebrated Christmas with her family at Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, and about 1,000 people turned up on a frosty Christmas morning to see the royals as they went to church.
However, they were denied sight of Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton, who announced their engagement last month and are due to marry in April at Westminster Abbey.
William, who is a Royal Air Force search and rescue pilot, was on call in Wales, and Kate was with her family, officials said.
In her Christmas message, the queen cited how, across Britain, "countless thousands of people every week give up their time to participate in sport and exercise of all sorts, or simply encourage others to do so."
"These kinds of activity are common throughout the world and play a part in providing a different perspective on life," she said.
The royals are all keen sportsmen and women -- the queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips is an eventing world champion -- and the monarch said that such activities gave people "a sense of belonging to a wider family".
"We see this vividly at the Commonwealth Games, for example, which is known to many as the Friendly Games and where I am sure you have noticed that it is always the competitors from the smallest countries who receive the loudest cheers," she said.
The queen's speech, which was broadcast on television and radio and will be available on the royal family's YouTube channel, is one of the rare occasions when she is able to voice her own views.
Her choice of subject has been seen by some commentators as critical of the government's decision to slash millions of pounds in school sports funding this year as part of widespread cuts to reduce a massive budget deficit.
In a break from tradition, the message was recorded at Hampton Court Palace -- normally the queen records it at Buckingham Palace.
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