AP Exclusive: Balich leads Olympic-style World Cup ceremony

ROME (AP) – First World Cup In the middle east. The first World Cup starts in November. First modern edition centered around a single city. First in an Arab country.

Now add “first world championship with Olympic-style opening ceremony” to the list of novelties for the tournament in Qatar. starting on Sunday.

Creative director Marco Balich, a veteran of multiple Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, told The Associated Press that he has been working for a year on a 30-minute show that will run before the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador.

“The Supreme Committee wanted to create a real show, which FIFA is not used to,” Balich said in a phone interview from Doha, referring to Qatar’s local organizing committee.

The extravagant ceremony was one of the reasons why the start of the World Cup in August was brought forward by one day in a late change – to give the show a more prominent viewing seat.

“FIFA and the Supreme Committee – especially FIFA – recognized the effort that went into designing the ceremony and creating for the first time something that doesn’t just have someone singing before the opening game,” Balich said.

One of the few details many fans remember from previous World Cup opening ceremonies was Diana Ross missing a penalty at a song-and-dance act in Chicago in 1994.

Balich promises much more substance in Qatar, noting that concerns about the treatment of migrant workers, human rights and the conservative country’s treatment of gays and lesbians will be addressed during the ceremony.

“I can’t spoil the surprise, but there will definitely be attention and answers to whatever issues are being discussed right now,” Balich said. “It’s not about pleasing the West, it’s about being the platform for Asia and the Western world to meet comfortably. … I think you will have answers to all the criticisms and questions that have been raised.”

Balich, who is Italian, began his Olympic experience at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games with the flag handover ceremony to Turin.

Unlike the full ceremonies he created for the 2006, 2014, 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games in Turin, Sochi, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo respectively, Balich received strict instructions from Qatar’s ruling Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani this event.

“The message and content of this show has been personally curated by the country’s leadership,” said Balich, who works with co-artistic director Akhmed Al Baker. “They want to talk about multiculturalism, embrace diversity and be a platform for peace.”

Sheikh Hamad has been a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for two decades and attended many of Balich’s ceremonies. No wonder, then, that the Emir wants an Olympic-style production.

The ceremony – and the tournament in general – is also an audition for Doha’s desire to host the Summer Olympics.

Doha has expressed interest in bidding for the Olympics three times, but so far has not been able to put itself on the list of candidates.

Qatari officials were caught off guard last year when the IOC granted Brisbane exclusive bidding rights and then awarded the 2032 games to the Australian city.

The next available summer games are 2036.

Doha was awarded the Asian Games 2030.


While the budget for the ceremony doesn’t come close to that of an Olympic opener – mainly because of the difference in length, as Olympic ceremonies usually last for hours with the parade of athletes and all sorts of protocols – Balich said Qatar “wasn’t afraid to invest in.” artistic quality.

“We have a team of 900 people with the best choreographers and lighting technicians in the world,” added Balich. “I think it will be a big step forward in terms of World Cup history and the next edition in the United States, Mexico and Canada will take on the challenge of creating this big show that will represent the experience and identity of the whole.” tournament enriched. ”


While Balich is still prevented from revealing details about the show’s content, he said “famous actors and artists” will be involved.

“But it’s not a Super Bowl halftime show,” he added. “It’s a real ceremony with content about Qatar and highlights the fact that this is a tournament with many firsts: the first time it will be played in winter; the first time it was played in an Arab country; and the first time eight stadiums surround a single city.”

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

The ceremony and opening game are scheduled for the tented Al Bayt Stadium, which has a capacity of 60,000.


The ceremony begins at 5:40 p.m. local time (1440 GMT, 9:40 a.m. EST) and ends 30 minutes later. Then the teams from Qatar and Ecuador come out for a pre-game warm-up and the opening game kicks off at 7pm


Balich is also officiating a closing ceremony ahead of the World Cup final on December 18, which he says will be “less important in substance”.

“It will be more of a celebration of the tournament, recognizing that the focus for the final is almost always on the two teams that compete,” he added.


Finally, Balich creates a daily water show on Doha’s Corniche, the promenade along the city’s bay.

Featuring fountains, drones and fire, Balich said the Corniche exhibit will be three times the size of the fountain show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.


AP sportswriter 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 can be reached at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf


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