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By ESPN Staff
Jan 13, 2006

FIFA cancels opening gala for 2006 World Cup

ZURICH, Switzerland -- FIFA canceled the opening gala for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany because of potential problems getting the field at Berlin's Olympic Stadium ready for its first game.

FIFA had previously changed the dates of the opening gala and first match to allow more time to get the field ready, but has now decided there is too great a risk that the work won't be complete.

"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," the governing body said in a statement.

The gala -- which was supposed to kick off soccer's monthlong showcase, featuring Peter Gabriel, soprano Jessye Norman and the hip-hop group Black Eyed Peas -- was scheduled for June 7.

"Personally, I still think the idea of holding such a high-profile opening event is a good one," FIFA president Sepp Blatter said. "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."

There is not enough time to move the event to another city, FIFA said. All payments for tickets already purchased will be refunded in full.

Andre Heller, artistic director for the opening event, said he had "a great sense of sadness" that he would be unable to complete his work.

"But I cannot argue with the fact that the World Cup matches at Berlin's Olympic Stadium, including the final, have to be played in perfect conditions," Heller said.

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who is also responsible for sports, expressed disappointment at FIFA's decision.

However, Schaeuble's ministry said he was confident that Heller would make separate opening celebrations in Munich and the closing ceremony in Berlin "a complete success."