Beijing? We've got Madiba magic!

2008-08-29 00:00

The Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games, staged at the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing, was variously described as “spectacular” (Agence France Presse), “magnificent” (BBC), “exhilarating” (U.S.A. Today), “astonishing” (Antena 3) and “a firecracker of a show” (Deutsche Welle).

It featured more than 15 000 performers, lasted longer than four hours, cost more than R800 million and even deployed futuristic weather modification technology to prevent rain. The extravaganza reportedly stunned an estimated television audience of 2,3 billion, one in three of every person on the planet.


Sitting in the stand, amazed as the first of many lavish batteries of fireworks lit up the sky, Sebastian Coe, chairman of London 2012, reportedly nudged Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, in the ribs and said: “Just that lot would have blown half our budget. How are we going to follow this?”

Organisers of the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa do not have quite the same problem, simply because the football showpiece has never shared the Olympic tradition of large-scale opening ceremonies. Even so, various observers have suggested that, following Beijing, South Africa may look a little flat.

Not necessarily.

In planning the ceremony to preface the opening match of the tournament at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Friday, June 11, 2010, the trick may be to think a little differently.

Start imagining …

The day dawns perfectly clear and blue and, as people prepare to gather at fan parks, public viewing sites, community festivals and private parties all around the country, all around the continent, all around the world, the 91 400 lucky ticket-holders start heading towards the brand new stadium.

All the countdown clocks have ticked down to 001 and, with everybody in their place, on schedule at 7 pm, the lights dim down and the upbeat music stops. In silence, tracked by a single spotlight, a familiar figure emerges from the tunnel and slowly makes his way towards the centre spot.

Nelson Mandela, a month before his 92nd birthday, reaches a small podium and smiles as only he can smile. He clears his throat and, with the world watching, he starts to speak.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Africa. Welcome to the first Fifa World Cup to be staged on African soil. Welcome to this day that means so much to so many people from Cairo to the Cape, this historic day when Africa finally steps out of the shadows and stands proud in the centre of the stage.

“Many people have worked many hours to bring us to this day, but I would like to pay special tribute to the contribution of one man, Josef S. Blatter, President of Fifa. This tournament in this country on this continent is no more and no less than the direct result of his vision. Mr President, we thank you.”

Applause ripples around the iconic stadium shaped like a calabash.

The former president continues: “Ladies and gentlemen, in their initial planning, the organising committee created a R60 million budget for a lavish and spectacular opening ceremony. However, almost two years ago, at their meeting on Monday, September 15, 2008, the LOC Board took a secret decision to abandon these plans and, instead, to use this sum of money to build a brand new, fully-equipped hospital.

Yesterday afternoon, it was my honour and privilege to open what has been named the SA 2010 Hospital.”

A three-minute film follows, broadcast on the two giant screens at either end of the stadium, and within the world feed being distributed to TV channels around the world; it shows men, women and children arriving at the hospital, being treated and comforted by smiling doctors and nurses.

Mandela concludes: “Ladies and gentlemen, as South Africans we could not be prouder to host this event, and we could not be prouder of our diverse, beautiful country. However, we are determined that this tournament will leave more than blurred memories of fireworks and mass gymnastics; we want Africa’s World Cup to leave a real tangible legacy that enhances and improves as many lives as possible.

“The opening match will start in 15 minutes. Thank you.”

An estimated television audience of billions is stunned once again, and massively impressed. Wow!

•Edward Griffiths is a journalist, author, former CEO of SA Rugby, general manager of SATV sport and was involved in various SA bid campaigns.

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