World Cup gala cancelled over fears for Berlin pitch

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The Independent Football

The organisers of the World Cup yesterday abandoned plans for an ambitious opening gala at Berlin's Olympic Stadium fearing it would leave the pitch unplayable.

The event, scheduled a week before the opening game, was to have featured a show with an all-star line-up and 5,000 volunteers at a cost of €25m (£17m). Sepp Blatter, president of Fifa, the world governing body, said that the gala had been cancelled on sporting grounds, saying that he was worried about the turf recovering from the event on 7 June.

However, the Berliner Zeitung newspaper has reported that the ceremony is off because of rising costs and ticket sales for the ceremony in the Olympic Stadium were sluggish.

"Personally, I still think the idea of holding such a high-profile opening event is a good one," Blatter said. "Fifa has not taken the decision to cancel the event at such a late stage lightly."

The statement expressed concerns about whether a new pitch to replace the grass trampled in the opening ceremony would be in satisfactory condition to play group matches just six days later. "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 pitch, which has to be in perfect playing condition by 12 June," Fifa said.

Performers were to include the American soprano Jessye Norman, the US band Black Eyed Peas and the Algerian singer Cheb Khaled. Long aware of the turf problem, Fifa had last year already rescheduled the gala ceremony and the first group match in Berlin to give an extra 48 hours to lay down new rolls of grass and give the turf time to take hold. The late decision to scrap the ceremony is a bitter blow to Germany's organising committee just days after a German consumer protection agency, Stiftung Warentest, warned that there were serious safety concerns at all 12 World Cup venues.

The spectacle was first planned by the German government and then taken over by Fifa. Previous World Cups have held opening ceremonies typically lasting about an hour immediately before the first match.

* Orders for 250,000 World Cup tickets on offer in the final sales window are set to be oversubscribed about 18 times. Preliminary figures show 535,000 orders for 4.5m tickets have been placed in the third sales period, which opened on 12 December and closes at midnight tomorrow. Balloting to allocate the tickets is on 31 January.