"Teamwork makes the African dream work"

SOUTH AFRICA emulated the Olympic Games and took the inauguration of the eighth edition of the ICC World Cup to a new plane.


The Indian team, led by skipper Sourav Ganguly, at the marchpast.-— Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN

SOUTH AFRICA emulated the Olympic Games and took the inauguration of the eighth edition of the ICC World Cup to a new plane. Thousands in the stadium and millions on television enjoyed the show. The Cricket World Cup Organising Committee (CWC) 2003 reserved three hours for popular entertainment, depiction of the rainbow nation's ethos and fireworks at the Newlands on the eve of the first match between West Indies and the host nation. Cape Townians paid thousands of rands to see a lavish programme that on purpose avoided the country's apartheid past and attempted to portray the New South Africa.

Cricket is a simple game, steeped in traditions, customs and values. There were no elaborate opening ceremonies when the World Cup was held in England three times in a row — 1975, '79 & '83. Things began to change once the World Cup moved outside England. Cricket officials took the cue from the grand opening of the Summer Olympics, televised worldwide. They were impressed by the show and decided to put in place opening ceremonies in some form before the first ball was bowled. It also became a Unique Selling Proposition to woo the business world that was spending millions of US dollars.

South Africa did not want to let go the opportunity of laying out a show to the world about its pet subject of unity among its people. Dr. Ali Bacher, the Executive Director of the CWC, began to plan the show just days after the ICC decided to award the World Cup to Africa. Dr. Bacher went to the Sydney Olympics with experts and was mightily impressed by the volunteer sourced opening ceremony that reflected the Australian ethos. He told the experts in the business that South Africa's World Cup opening ceremony should be based on its people of many races and cultures. It should also include its wildlife, he said.

It took a few months to give Dr. Bacher's idea shape. Even when it was presented, it was difficult for a layman to make out what the scenes actually conveyed. The `Ceremonies of Africa' began with the theme "Here we are, all together, at our best, in all our glory,'' wherein `Jabu', a tour guide, takes a small group of international cricket fans on a trip through Africa before finishing up in Cape Town in time for the Opening Ceremony. The group is exposed to the fauna, flora, culture, music, hospitality and the beauty of South Africa. The group is amazed by the diversity of Africa.

Penny Jones promised a small show before the West Indies and South Africa took the field at Newlands. Having been closely associated with the Summer Olympics and ace choreographer Doug Jack, Penny, when conceiving `Ceremonies of Africa', worked on the principle `Teamwork makes the African Dream Work'.

More than a year ago, the World Cup mascot `Dazzler' was unveiled at the South West Township (SOWETO) inside a specially erected gear house. The people involved with the opening ceremony wanted to make the show memorable. They decided to put in an elaborate stadium theatre opening, the heartbeat of which according to Penny was going to be South Africa's people. "Today you are part of an extraordinary event. The venue is unusual, the occasion unique and the performers are amateurs,'' said Penny, who is an international expert in Stadium Theatre, mass display choreography and logistics.

She has worked in the Summer Olympics of Atlanta (1996), co-ordinated all the ceremonies for the 2004 Cape Town Olympics bid, staged the mass displays for the 2006 World Cup soccer logo launch, produced the mass displays for the opening and the closing ceremonies of the 1999 All Africa Games and was also involved with the opening and closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Sydney and the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake.

Basically, the opening ceremony was presented in seven scenes: (1) Safari — introduction of `Jabu', the tour guide, and the tourists and Johnny Clegg performing `Scatterlings of Africa.' (2) Unity — This involved guest-artists from different cultures including from the Indian Arts Academy. (3) Township — Dancers from `African Footprint' performing `Fast lane jive' and others performing `A cry, A smile and A Dance' based dance. (4) Ocean — Ballet performed by Cape Town City Ballet. (5) Innovation — Entrance of African Sports Ambassadors. (6) Protocol — Entrance of the ICC World Cup panel of Match Referees and Umpires and the 14 teams and (7) Cape Town Carnival — this involved the CT Minstrels and Drum Majorettes.

The cast consisted of 4500 volunteers, most of them from the Western Cape and over 750 hours of rehearsals were held. Most of the costumes were designed and manufactured in township cottage industries.

A special stage weighing 29 tonnes and called the `Doughnut' was erected on the centre square of the Newlands Cricket Ground. The pitch was protected with the stage leaving no weight impressions.

After the completion of the ceremonies, the President of the Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, welcomed the guests and inaugurated the World Cup. "We want you to be part of a true African experience as you witnessed during the magnificent performance this evening.

This sports competition is about peace among the peoples of the world. It is about strengthening friendship among the nations and the youth of the world,'' said Mbeki.

The ICC President, Malcolm Gray, said that the eighth World Cup would be the biggest cricket tournament ever staged. "This is a fantastic day for cricket. But the World Cup is far more than a cricket tournament. It is your opportunity to showcase this rainbow nation and reveal the golden joys of Africa. The eyes of the world will be on Africa as you embrace the game and the world players, mingling in the strange harmony of contrasts.''