AP Exclusive: Balich leads Olympics-style World Cup ceremony

Rome (AP) – The first World Cup in the Middle East. The first World Cup starts in November. The first modern version based around a city. First in Arab countries.

Now add “the first World Cup Olympic-style opening ceremony” to the tournament in Qatar. From Sunday.

Marko Balic, a veteran of several Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, told The Associated Press that the 30-minute show before the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador has been in the works for a year.

“The supreme committee wanted to create a real show that FIFA is not used to,” Balic said in a telephone interview from Doha, referring to Qatar’s domestic organizing committee.

The unusual ceremony is one of the reasons why the start of the World Cup in August has gone up a day. In the late switch – to give the show a more prominent viewing slot.

“FIFA and the top committee – especially FIFA – understand how much effort goes into creating the celebration and creating something that would not happen for the first time that someone sings before the opening game,” Balic said.

One of the few details many fans remember from past World Cup opening ceremonies was when Diana Ross missed a penalty during a song-and-dance act in Chicago in 1994.

Balich is promising more in Qatar, citing concerns over the treatment of migrant workers, human rights and gay and lesbian issues in the conservative country during the ceremony.

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“I can’t spoil the surprise, but there will certainly be attention and responses to all the issues that are currently being debated,” Balich said. “It is not to please the West, but to be a platform where Asia and the West meet comfortably. … I think you will have an answer to all the criticisms and issues raised.

The Italian Balich started his Olympic experience in 2011. At the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, the flag was handed over to Turin.

Unlike the full ceremonies he created for the 2006, 2014, 2016 and 2020 Olympics in Turin, Sochi, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo respectively, Balich was given strict instructions for this event by Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

“The message and content of this show was put together by the country’s leadership,” said Balich, who is working with art director Ahmed Al Baker. “They want to talk about multiculturalism, embracing diversity and being a forum for peace.”

Sheikh Hamad has been a member of the International Olympic Committee for two decades and has sat on several Olympic ceremonies. So it’s no surprise that Emir wanted an Olympic-style product.

The ceremony – and the tournament in general – is also a sign of Doha’s desire to host the Summer Olympics.

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Although Doha has expressed interest in competing for the Olympic competition three times, it has not yet been able to enter the list of candidates.

Qatari officials turned a blind eye last year when the IOC awarded sole bidding rights to Brisbane. He then awarded the 2032 Games to the Australian city.

The next Summer Games is 2036.

Doha has been awarded the 2030 Asian Games.

Big expenses

Although the budget for the ceremony is not close to the opening of the Olympics – mainly due to the difference in length, Olympic ceremonies last several hours with athletes’ performances and all kinds of protocols – Balich said that Qatar is not afraid to invest. In the quality of art.

“We have a team of 900 people with the best choreographers and lighting technicians in the world,” Balic added. .”

It’s not the Super Bowl.

While Balich is still tight-lipped about the details of the event, he said that “famous actors and artists” will be involved.

“But it’s not the Super Bowl halftime show,” he added. “It’s a real ceremony with Qatar content and highlights the fact that this is the first tournament of many: the first time it’s been held this winter. When he played for the first time in an Arab country; And for the first time, eight stadiums surrounded one city.

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K-pop star Jungkook is one of the confirmed performers at the ceremony.

The ceremony and the opening game will take place at the 60,000-capacity tent-shaped Al Bait Stadium.

Give time

The ceremony begins at 5:40 pm (1440 GMT, 9:40 am EST) and ends 30 minutes later. Then the teams of Qatar and Ecuador will go out for a warm-up game and the opening game will start at 1 pm.

Closing ceremony

“It won’t matter much in terms of content,” said Balic, who is presiding over the closing ceremony before the World Cup finals on December 18.

“The final will be more of a celebration of the competition, realizing that the focus is always on the two teams involved.

Corniche shows

Finally, Balich is creating the Doha Corniche, a daily water show that runs alongside the city’s bay.

Balich said the Corniche display, which features fountains, airplanes and fire, is three times larger than the fountain display at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.


AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.


AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports


Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf.


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