AP Exclusive: Balich leads Olympics-style World Cup ceremony

Nov 15, 2022, 11:05 PM | Updated: Nov 16, 2022, 5:00 pm
FILE - Fireworks erupt after the lighting of the Olympic flame to mark the beginning of the Turin 2...

FILE - Fireworks erupt after the lighting of the Olympic flame to mark the beginning of the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, Friday Feb. 10, 2006. Creative director Marco Balich, reveals to The Associated Press that he has been working for a year on a 30-minute show that will run ahead of the Soccer World Cup 2022 opening game between Qatar and Ecuador. He says local organizers "wanted to create a real show, which FIFA is not accustomed to.” (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

              FILE - Fireworks are seen during the opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 23, 2021, in Tokyo.  Creative director Marco Balich, reveals to The Associated Press that he has been working for a year on a 30-minute show that will run ahead of the Soccer World Cup 2022 opening game between Qatar and Ecuador. He says local organizers "wanted to create a real show, which FIFA is not accustomed to.” (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)
            
              FILE - The Olympic Rings light up the stadium during opening ceremonies for the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, Friday, Feb. 10, 2006. Creative director Marco Balich, reveals to The Associated Press that he has been working for a year on a 30-minute show that will run ahead of the Soccer World Cup 2022 opening game between Qatar and Ecuador. He says local organizers "wanted to create a real show, which FIFA is not accustomed to.”(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, Pool, File)
            
              FILE - Athletes enter the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, Friday, Feb. 10, 2006.  Creative director Marco Balich, reveals to The Associated Press that he has been working for a year on a 30-minute show that will run ahead of the Soccer World Cup 2022 opening game between Qatar and Ecuador. He says local organizers "wanted to create a real show, which FIFA is not accustomed to.” (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, Pool, File)
            
              FILE - The Olympic flame burns as fireworks explode during the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 23, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan.  Creative director Marco Balich, reveals to The Associated Press that he has been working for a year on a 30-minute show that will run ahead of the World Cup 2022 opening game between Qatar and Ecuador. He says local organizers "wanted to create a real show, which FIFA is not accustomed to.” (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
            
              FILE - Director Marco Balich poses during the photo call to present the show "Giudizio Universale" (Last Judgement), Michelangelo and the Secrets of the Sistine Chapel, at the Auditorium Conciliazione, in Rome, on March 12, 2018. Creative director Marco Balich, reveals to The Associated Press that he has been working for a year on a 30-minute show that will run ahead of the World Cup 2022 opening game between Qatar and Ecuador. He says local organizers "wanted to create a real show, which FIFA is not accustomed to.” (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)
            
              FILE - Drones perform a globe above the roof of the stadium during the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 23, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan.  Creative director Marco Balich, reveals to The Associated Press that he has been working for a year on a 30-minute show that will run ahead of the Soccer World Cup 2022 opening game between Qatar and Ecuador. He says local organizers "wanted to create a real show, which FIFA is not accustomed to.” (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)
            
              FILE - Fireworks erupt after the lighting of the Olympic flame to mark the beginning of the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, Friday Feb. 10, 2006.  Creative director Marco Balich, reveals to The Associated Press that he has been working for a year on a 30-minute show that will run ahead of the Soccer World Cup 2022 opening game between Qatar and Ecuador. He says local organizers "wanted to create a real show, which FIFA is not accustomed to.” (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

ROME (AP) — First World Cup in the Middle East. First World Cup kicking off in November. First modern edition based around a single city. First in an Arab country.

Now add “first World Cup with an Olympics-style opening ceremony” to the list of novelties for the tournament in Qatar beginning 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 ahead of the opening game between Qatar and Ecuador.

“The supreme committee wanted to create a real show, which FIFA is not accustomed 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 in August the World Cup start was moved up a day in a late switch — to give the show a more prominent viewing slot.

“FIFA and the supreme committee — especially FIFA — realized how much effort was going into creating the ceremony and creating for the first time something that’s not just 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 kick in 1994 during a song-and-dance act in Chicago.

Balich is promising much more substance in Qatar, indicating that concerns over the treatment of migrant workers, human rights and the conservative country’s handling of gays and lesbians will be addressed during the ceremony.

“I can’t spoil the surprise but there will definitely be attention given and responses to all of the issues being debated right now,” Balich said. “It’s not about pleasing the West but being the platform on which Asia and the Western world can comfortably meet. … I think you’ll have answers to all of the criticism and issues 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 that 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 ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

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

Sheikh Hamad has been an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member for two decades and sat through many of Balich’s ceremonies. So it’s not surprising that the emir wants an Olympic-style production.

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

Doha has expressed interest in bidding for the Olympics three times but has so far been unable to get onto the candidate list.

Qatari officials were left blindsided last year when the IOC gave Brisbane exclusive bidding rights and then awarded the 2032 Games to the Australian city.

The next available Summer Games is 2036.

Doha has been awarded the 2030 Asian Games.

BIG SPENDERS

While the ceremony budget doesn’t come near that of an Olympic opener — mostly because of the difference in length, with Olympic ceremonies usually lasting 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 best-in-the-world choreographers and lighting technicians,” Balich added. “I think it’s going to be a big step forward in terms of World Cup history, and the next edition in the United States, Mexico and Canada will inherit the challenge to create this big show which enriches the experience and identity of the entire tournament.”

NOT A SUPER BOWL

While Balich is still restricted from revealing details of the show’s content, he did say that “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 stresses the fact that this is a tournament of many firsts: the first time it’s been played in the winter; the first time it’s been played in an Arab country; and the first time that eight stadiums surround a single city.”

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

The ceremony and opening game are slated for the tent-shaped Al Bayt Stadium, which has a capacity of 60,000.

TIMING

The ceremony will start at 5:40 p.m. local time (1440 GMT, 9:40 a.m. EST) and end 30 minutes later. Then the Qatar and Ecuador teams will come out for pre-match warmups and the opening game will kick off at 7 p.m.

CLOSING CEREMONY

Balich is also directing a closing ceremony before the World Cup final on Dec. 18 that he said will be “less important in terms of content.

“It will be more a celebration of the tournament with the realization that the focus for the final is nearly always on the two teams taking part,” he added.

CORNICHE SHOWS

Lastly, Balich is creating a daily water show off Doha’s corniche, the promenade alongside the city’s bay.

Featuring fountains, drones and fire, Balich said the corniche display will be three times as big as the fountain show 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

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Clemson beats Cal 67-59, takes 3rd at Emerald Coast Classic

NICEVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Chase Hunter and Hunter Tyson each scored 14 points, and Clemson beat winless California 67-59 on Saturday in the third-place game of the Emerald Coast Classic. Clemson (5-2) rebounded from a 74-71 loss to No. 25 Iowa on Friday that ended a three-game win streak. Hunter was 5 of 10 from […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

Laube, Brosmer lead New Hampshire past Fordham, 52-42

DURHAM, N.H. (AP) — Dylan Laube ran for three touchdowns and pulled in an 87-yard touchdown pass to lead New Hampshire to a 52-42 win over Fordham in a first-round game in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs on Saturday. The win sends the Wildcats into a second-round matchup December 3 with undefeated Patriot League champion […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

Undercuffler throws 3 TD passes, Akron gets first MAC win

DEKALB, Ill. (AP) — Jeff Undercuffler threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns, leading Akron to a 44-12 victory over Northern Illinois on Saturday in the season finale for both teams. Akron picked up its first Mid-American Conference win of the season, helped in large part by a 20-point second quarter. Trailing 6-0 through one […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

Wright scores 13 as NC Central knocks off Gardner-Webb 58-53

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Justin Wright scored 13 points as North Carolina Central beat Gardner-Webb 58-53 on Saturday. Wright also added seven rebounds for the Eagles (3-3). Ja’Darius Harris finished 6 of 9 from the field to add 13 points. Eric Boone was 2 of 7 shooting, including 1 for 3 from distance, and went […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

Williams’ 14 lead Charlotte past Presbyterian 69-42

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Brice Williams scored 14 points as Charlotte beat Presbyterian 69-42 on Saturday. Williams was 5 of 9 shooting and 3 of 3 from the free throw line for the 49ers (5-2). Aly Khalifa added 13 points while shooting 5 for 9, including 2 for 5 from beyond the arc, and he […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

Born’s 30 lead Northern Iowa past Northern Illinois 83-76

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) — Bowen Born’s 30 points led Northern Iowa over Northern Illinois 83-76 on Saturday. Born was 8 of 18 shooting, including 2 for 7 from distance, and went 12 for 15 from the line for the Panthers (2-3). Logan Wolf added 19 points while shooting 7 for 13 (3 for 6 […]
15 hours ago
AP Exclusive: Balich leads Olympics-style World Cup ceremony