SÃO PAULO – With just a day to go, São Paulo is bracing itself for Thursday’s World Cup opening ceremony and first match of the tournament between hosts Brazil and Croatia.
The 25-minute opening ceremony will showcase the host nation’s “treasures: nature, people, football,” its Belgian artistic director Daphne Cornez was quoted by local media as saying.
Around 600 performers are set to dazzle crowds in a routine that will include gymnastics and Brazil’s famous martial art, capoeira, before culminating in a performance of the official World Cup song “We Are One” by performers Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull and Claudia Leite, accompanied by legendary Bahian percussion band Olodum.
Lopez’s performance was confirmed at the last minute, after World Cup organisers FIFA previously said the American singer would not be attending.
As well as the 60,000 spectators in the Arena Corinthians, São Paulo’s World Cup stadium, it is thought that around a billion viewers around the world will watch the spectacle on television – with up to three billion tuning in over the course of the four-yearly sporting mega-event.
However, the most poignant and symbolic part of the opening ceremony is likely to be the first touch of the ball – not by a footballer, but by a paraplegic patient in an exoskeleton designed by Brazilian neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis, as part of a historic kick-off to the tournament.
The exoskeleton suit, which recently passed its final test phase, is part of the scientist’s Walk Again project to help paralysed people regain their independence.
Guests of honour
The opening ceremony will be watched by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, along with no fewer than 11 heads of state, according to Brazil’s presidential palace.
They include the presidents of Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador and Angola, and the Emir of Qatar – the nation awarded the 2022 World Cup.
Croatia will be represented at the opening match by Prime Minster Zoran Milanović, and other heads of state, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin, will attend other matches during the month-long tournament.
However, after scenes at last year’s opening match of the Confederations Cup in Brasília, where President Rousseff and FIFA President Sepp Blatter were booed, it was announced there would be no formal speeches to open the tournament.
The venue for the World Cup venue, the Arena Corinthians, is one of the most delayed of the 12 stadiums built or completely renovated for the tournament.
Workers could still be seen at the site on Wednesday morning, an Anadolu Agency correspondent in São Paulo said, and finishing touches are being made, including an emergency drainage ditches.
Risk of disruption
However, transport to the stadium is more of a concern for officials. After metro workers suspended their five-day strike, a decision will be made at a São Paulo metro union meeting later on Wednesday as to whether the strike will resume on Thursday, coinciding with the start of the tournament.
The metro workers are demanding that the government reverse its decision to fire at least 42 workers who took part in the recent strike, which a regional labour court ruled was illegal.
The metro is the main mode of transport to get fans to the stadium, although it is also served by a local rail system and major road. The government says contingency plans are in place in case of industrial action.
A number of protest groups are also planning to gather on Wednesday evening and throughout Thursday, including in the vicinity of the stadium.
However, it is thought that the Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST), which has successfully gathered crowds of over 15,000 people at recent protests, will play a less significant role than previously predicted, after concessions and pledges from the government to help the movement’s members with funds to build housing on the site near the stadium that they have occupied since early May thought to hold over 4,000 families.
President Rousseff said in a 10-minute national address on Tuesday evening that the country would host the event with pride, and that those who are protesting at government spending on the event who believed it had drained money from health and education were courting a “false dilemma.”
Security will be tight at the event, with restrictions affecting the area around the stadium, and whichever protest groups decide to hold demonstrations, President Rousseff has made clear that nothing will be allowed to disrupt the tournament.
Up to 180,000 public and private security personnel will be deployed to the 12 World Cup host cities at a cost of nearly R$1.9 billion (US$840 million). The cost of the entire event to the Brazilian government is estimated at around US$14 billion.