The star-studded gala which was to open the 2006 World Cup in Berlin has been cancelled due to concerns over damage to the Olympic Stadium's pitch. Some believe the real reason is a lack of interest and rising costs.
Berlin's hallowed turf gets a stay of execution
It was going to be the first of its kind and an opening that would have shamed other sporting galas with its proposed pomp, preening and pop stars. But with just five months to go before the FIFA 2006 World Cup gets underway, the star-studded spectacular -- which would have heralded the long-awaited arrival of soccer's greatest spectacle on German soil -- has been unceremoniously dumped from the agenda.
Despite promising that the massive stage, which would have creaked like the knees of an aging rock star under the weight of such luminaries as Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel and the Black Eyed Peas, would not damage the field at Berlin’s Olympiastadion, FIFA cancelled the event apparently for just that reason.
However, some in the German press know a cover-up when they smell one and it is likely to be revealed over the weekend that the gala event was actually cancelled because it is floating very few people's boats. Lack of ticket sales, it is alleged, is the real reason for the cancellation.
The Berliner Zeitung newspaper is expected to go public with revelations that the estimated 25 million euro ($30 million) costs are rising higher and faster than a David Beckham penalty and that tickets are selling slower than those for a Lothar Matthäus spoken word event.
Blatter shedding crocodile tears for canceled event?
FIFA President Sepp Blatter is an advocate of the beautiful game.
FIFA are having none of it, however. President Sepp Blatter maintained on Friday that the gala had been cancelled on strictly sporting grounds.
"Personally, I still think the idea of holding such a high-profile opening event is a good one," said Blatter. "FIFA has not taken the decision to cancel the event at such a late stage lightly, but as world football's governing body; we must put sporting considerations first."
For conspiracy theorists, Blatter's statement arrived with a distinct whiff of fish. The FIFA president, when questioned in the past about the possibility of huge cultural event to launch the World Cup, said: "Football fans want to see matches. They don't want speeches, they want a few songs and they want to see football." With such a ringing endorsement, critics believe, the gala was living on borrowed time from the off.
First group game would come just six days after gala
Berlin's Olympiastadion will host reigning champion Brazil's first game.
The music, dance and performance art extravaganza was due to take place on June 7, just six days before the first World Cup match at the stadium on June 13 between world champions Brazil and Croatia. FIFA fears that a new pitch laid own to replace the grass trampled in the opening ceremony would not be in satisfactory condition for the match to take place.
"It has since become clear that there would be considerable risks involved, not only in dismantling the stages and the event's technical installations in time but also in laying a new
field, which has to be in perfect playing condition by June 12," FIFA said in a statement.
Things go from bad to worse for Organizing Committee
Could Der Kaiser be making a disguised gesture to his critics here?
It is the latest embarrassing turn in the gala's ill-fated story. FIFA had already rescheduled the gala ceremony and the first group match in Berlin last year to give an extra 48 hours to lay down new rolls of grass and give the turf time to take hold.
And the cancellation comes as another blow to the German Organizing Committee, which is currently sulking over a report from German consumer protection agency Stiftung Warentest, which warned that there were serious safety concerns at all 12 World Cup venues. The gala's artistic director, Austrian Andre Heller, was naturally gutted by the news. "It is with a great sense of sadness that I leave my exciting work for the FIFA World Cup gala in Berlin," Heller said in a presumably tear-stained statement.